On February 24, 2022, the City of Ocean City (Cape May County) City Council resolved to pay $135,000 to confidentially settle a lawsuit filed by a female lifeguard who claimed that her male supervisor exposed himself to her.

In her 2021 lawsuit, Rylie A. Devine said that her supervisor, Senior Lifeguard Christopher Denn, made “specific sexual comments,” “exposed his male genitalia” and “requested sexual acts from” her. Devine claimed that Denn’s alleged conduct was “especially egregious” and caused her to be “embarrassed, humiliated and angry.”

Devine said that Denn’s alleged conduct “is not the first time that the Beach Patrol’s failure to inculcate a culture that deters and/or prevents sexual harassment has resulted in harm.” “Ocean City was on notice that it had a major issue with regard to sexual misconduct at The Beach Patrol which should have required them to undertake conduct to prevent the harm done in this particular case, as well as in others,” according to the lawsuit.

According to records disclosed in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Devine earned $14.97 per hour until her job ended on September 22, 2019. Denn earned $24.67 per hour. His “Termination Date” is listed as August 9, 2019 and his “Termination Reason” is listed as “poor performance.”

Of the $135,000, Devine received $74,165.80 and her lawyer received the remaining $60,834.30 for his fees and expenses.

The case is captioned Rylie A. Devine v. City of Ocean City, et al, Docket No. CPM-L-304-21 and Devine’s attorney was Kevin Costello or Mount Laurel. The civil lawsuit, City Council resolution and the settlement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which requires Devine to “not disclose the facts, amounts and terms of” the settlement agreement. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Devine’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The allegations against Denn and other city officials are just that–unproven allegations. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. All that is known for sure is that Ocean City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Devine $135,000 than take the matter to trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]