A school district in Union County agreed to pay $110,000 to a gay teacher who sued the district, claiming he was fired from his teaching position after announcing his sexual orientation.

judge's gavel (Kuzma, ThinkStock)
judge's gavel (Kuzma, ThinkStock)

The settlement between Matthew Richards of Clark and the Scotch Plains-Fanwood School District was reached on May 17, according to NJ Civil Settlements. Richards originally filed the suit in Union County Superior Court on Oct. 31, 2015.

The lawsuit states that Richards began teaching at the William J. McGinn Elementary School in August 2011 as a replacement for another teacher who was on maternity leave. During his time teaching, he was observed and consistently received positive reviews.

"The District was highly satisfied with Richards' performance as a replacement teacher and therefore hired him at the end of the 2011-2012 school year as a permanent third grade teacher on tenure track," the lawsuit states, adding that as time passed, the school principal assured the teacher that his job was secure.

He returned as a teacher for the 2013-14 school year and continued to received praise for his effectiveness and rapport with the students. Then in January of 2014, things began to change. Richards announced plans to marry his gay partner - now his husband. From that point on, the lawsuit states, he faced several problems.

Shortly after he announced marriage plans, the suit states, an unnamed parent of one of Richards' male students "falsely accused Richards to the District of keeping her son after class with him after dismissing the other students, with an innuendo of sexual impropriety."

The lawsuit claims that the same parents also "spread blatant slurs" about Richards' sexual orientation to "support her vendetta" against the teacher. The suit states that the district was aware of the actions of the parent who also wrte a lengthy letter to the district seeking to have Richards fired.

In the lawsuit, Richard claims the "attacks" made him physically ill and he had to be hospitalized in February of 2014.

In the months that followed, the once positive performance reviews became increasingly negative, the suit states. In March, he received a negative interim report. At the end of the 2013-14 school year he was terminated.

"Richards immediately perceived that the interim report was a reaction to his announcement of his intended gay marriage and the vendetta against him because of his sexual orientation," the suit claims, adding that Richards feel "there was a pre-planned determination to terminate him as a teacher because of his sexual orientation, with his alleged poor teaching performance to be used as a pretext."

The lawsuit was settled in May before the case could be given a jury trial. Although the settlement agreement includes a confidentiality clause to prevent both parties from disclosing the settlement agreement, the court documents are a matter of public record.

Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at toniann.antonelli@townsquaremedia.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.

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