ED. NOTE: The below replaces an earlier version.
WILDWOOD – The Wildwood School District paid $400,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim filed by a Wildwood High School custodian, according to public documents uncovered by an open government advocate.
Donna Howard filed a lawsuit alleging harassment and sexual advances by Patrick Quinlan, the supervisor of buildings and grounds. A copy of the suit and details of the settlement (https://bit.ly/3k2TwgH) were posted to transparencynj.com by John Paff, who heads the open government advocacy project for the New Jersey Libertarian Party.
Paff’s post from Nov. 2, 2020, reports that the Wildwood Board of Education agreed to settle the suit Aug. 13. He included a copy of the lawsuit and other documents obtained under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA), and a copy of Howard’s suit, in which she detailed her allegations of harassment before she was fired in July 2016.
An attorney listed in the court documents as representing Howard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
John Kummings, superintendent, Wildwood School District, declined to comment on the matter.
"We cannot comment as the settlement is a personnel matter," he wrote in an emailed response to a request from the Herald.
The school district did not admit any wrongdoing. As Paff wrote about the case, the settlement does not prove the allegations, which were not proven or disproven in court.
“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,” he wrote.
The suit, filed in February 2018, alleges Howard was the subject of unwanted advances, starting in early 2012.
“When the sexual advances were not accepted by the plaintiff, defendant (Patrick Quinlan) started engaging in a course of conduct which eventually led to plaintiff’s termination and a violation of various state statutes…” reads the suit.
Howard alleges she was given extra work and was reprimanded in writing for infractions that did not occur. The suit also alleges that she was given dangerous assignments and was verbally accosted by the supervisor.
“He was aggressively screaming at her and telling how lousy a worker she was. She was immediately ill and had to report to the nurse. The nurse took her blood pressure which was extremely high and wanted to call an ambulance,” reads the suit.
At one point, according to the documents, Quinlan was told he could not speak to Howard without a union representative present.
The suit also alleges that Quinlan’s wife, school board member Lynn Quinlan, told Howard “you should just quit,” in an exchange on the beach.
Members of the administration were told of the situation, according to the lawsuit, but it alleges they did nothing to investigate and allowed it to continue.
As part of the settlement agreement, also included in the documentation Paff posted, Howard signed off on any claims against the district.
According to the documents, $174,850 was paid to Howard and the law firm representing her, while the remaining $225,150 went to purchase an annuity policy with New York Life that will pay Howard $1,000 a month “guaranteed for 20 years certain plus the life of Donna Howard,” as stated in the settlement.
Through his blog posts and steady submission of OPRA requests to towns throughout New Jersey, Paff has been an open records powerhouse for years and was involved in a 2010 ruling of the New Jersey Supreme Court that found settlement agreements involving public agencies are public records, even if they include a confidentiality clause.
To contact Bill Barlow, email firstname.lastname@example.org.