Central Bucks School Board member Jim Pepper gave a fiery speech at the Oct. 10 meeting.
At issue are equal pay cases brought by teachers Rebecca Cartee-Haring and Dawn Marinello. Marinello’s case is now a class action with some 360 female teachers on board. Cartee-Haring’s husband, Rick Haring, a Democrat, is running for a seat on the school board next month.
Pepper, a plaintiff’s lawyer, blasted teachers suing the district and its lawyer for pressing the district to settle the cases for $120 million, money he said the district does not have “sitting around.”
Pepper noted that CBSD’s attorney, Michael Levin, told the board that based on the facts, the district would prevail.
“First off and most importantly, the district’s lawyer has said unequivocally there has been no unlawful discrimination in our district,” said Pepper. “None.”
“People think that once a complaint is filed, that is the end of the story… That is not how our legal system works,” said Pepper. There is discovery (where each side turns over evidence) and then motion practice, he said, before a trial would begin.
“This is what I do for a living,” said Pepper. “Strange (for) a party to settle before discovery is concluded. Before summary judgments are filed. Such demands are a sign of weakness. If you think you have a good case, you put it on.
“The district has the legal right and the obligation to vigorously defend itself,” Pepper continued, noting the settlement requested “equates to one-third of its annual operating budget.”
“If the board flips, they will settle. Period,” said Pepper. “But who’s going to pay? The district? What is the district?”
Under Act 1, school boards cannot raise taxes by more than four percent unless the district qualifies for exceptions, so it would need to ask the voters for approval. Pepper said taxes would need to be raised 50 percent.
Levin said the district would have to sell property, lay off staff, and cut programs to satisfy the plaintiff’s demands.
In a social media post, Marinello called that scenario “a fear tactic to the largest degree.”
“Furthermore, they conveniently neglect how Central Bucks School District has $1.4 billion in real estate holdings,” she said.
“Do these people know what sits on this real estate? Schools and playing fields, parking lots,” Pepper said. “The plaintiffs have suggested we mortgage the properties.”
In a July 27 court filing, plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ed Mazurek, suggested if the board changes from Republican to Democratic control, it would likely settle the case.
“That presents the potential for newly elected board members to constitute a majority supporting settlement. Indeed, even if all five candidates who would be new to the board are not elected, those who could combine with current members who are not running this year and will remain on the board to support settlement,” Mazurek wrote in the filing.
School Board President Dana Hunter, a Republican running for reelection, told DVJournal that Mazurek met with the Democratic candidates to find out if they would settle, but the five Republican candidates refused to meet with him.
Haring has said he would recuse himself from voting on whether to settle his wife’s case, but it would be likely to be settled if Marinello’s is.
In an email to DVJournal, Cartee-Haring said, “My case was not part of the settlement demand. CBSD did not allow me to opt into the collective action. I did not send a demand letter, nor did Ed Mazurek send one on my behalf; my concern has always been the fact that Dana Hunter did not brief the entire board on the cases even when a federal judge directed (Superintendent) Abe Lucabaugh to do so.”
Asked about that, Hunter said the legal filings list both cases together as the plaintiffs. However, she noted Cartee-Haring has filed several lawsuits against the district, starting with one regarding a coaching contract not being renewed. She demanded $750,000 for a $7,000 to $8,000 extracurricular job. Another one alleged the principal at Central Bucks West, where she teaches English, retaliated against her, Hunter said.
As for the board not being briefed on the case, Hunter asked how Cartee-Haring would know since briefings on legal matters occur in executive session unless “someone is releasing confidential information.”
Hunter added all board members were trained on what is or is not allowed. That included a mandate not to communicate with someone suing the district.
Tim Daly filed right-to-know requests and received emails from board member Tabitha Dell’Angelo showing she and Cartee-Haring exchanged several emails regarding the case. DVJournal obtained those emails. Dell-Angelo did not respond to requests for comment. She is not running for reelection.
In one message between the pair dated Aug. 28, 2022, Dell’Angelo wrote, “And I have never even gotten one update about your case in my position as a school director.”
Cartee-Haring responded, “Thank you! I believe the district is going to appeal the judge’s decision to the 3rd Circuit…so the fight continues.”
“We have multiple candidates saying to settle, including Mrs. Haring’s husband, Rick Haring, saying to settle,” Pepper said.
“In the past year, we’ve seen people threatening to burn this district down, incessant attacks, lies, smears, threatening children, my children, endangering children. And last month, the coup de grace: violence,” said Pepper.
At the September meeting, Dell’Angelo’s husband picked up a chair and appeared ready to throw it at Daly before someone intervened.