Photo Credit: Front of the Hillsborough High School in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey. Photo taken at the intersection of Raider Boulevard and Homestead Road by Mr. Matté. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hillsborough_High_School,_NJ_front.jpg Licensed under CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en Original Photo was cropped.

On March 8, 2022, the Hillsborough School District (Somerset County) confidentially paid $95,000 to a former female student who claimed that school officials did not protect her from “severe and pervasive” sexual harassment from her former boyfriend who was also a student.

In her 2018 lawsuit, the girl, identified by her initials, claimed that in May 2017, when she was a freshman at Hillsborough High School, she broke off a nine-month “romantic relationship” with a male student. After the breakup, she claimed, the male student harassed her. There are many examples of alleged harassment in the lawsuit, a few of which are: telling her that “he hoped she got raped because she was such a slut and a whore,” spreading rumors that she was pregnant, taking drugs and had a sexually transmitted disease, and threatening to throw eggs at her despite knowing that if the girl “even touches any egg products, she would need to go immediately to the hospital.”

The girl claimed that her parents complained to school administrators about the alleged harassment but were told that her complaints were “hearsay” and that not much could be done about them.

The lawsuit went on to claim that the boy’s father was “local politician” who used his influence to get the girl written up on a “trivial and retaliatory code violation citation.” She claimed that the boy and his father showed up uninvited at 10:30 p.m. for her sweet sixteen party. The boy and his father “stare[d] at the attendees through the windows” which caused the girl’s parents to call the police, according to the lawsuit. This incident allegedly caused the family to homeschool the girl for the next month.

A police report of the incident shows that the father admitted that he and his son were at the restaurant where the girl’s sweet sixteen party was held. The boy’s father denied that he harassed the girl or her family and said that he and his son went to the restaurant so that he could have a drink with a friend and discuss business.

The girl claimed that she had a temporary restraining order entered against the boy about a month after she returned to school after being homeschooled. She said, however, that a “final restraining order was not entered due to a determination that there was no jurisdiction regarding the same.” After continuing to be harassed, the girl and her family moved to a different county, according to the lawsuit.

Of the $95,000, the girl received $47,500 and the other $47,500 went to her lawyer.

The case is captioned A.K., by her parent v. Hillsborough Township School District, et al, Docket No. SOM-L-1112-18 and the girl’s attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which the girl and her parents agreed “that the existence, substance, terms and content of this Release, including settlement amounts paid, shall be and remain completely confidential.” 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 lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the employees or officials named in the lawsuit. the girl’s allegations against the boy and his father are just that–allegations. All that is known for sure is that the Hillsborough School District or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the girl $95,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision 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. 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 paff@pobox.com