Oral arguments slated in settlement dispute

Oral arguments slated in settlement dispute

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Oral arguments are scheduled this month in the case of Thomas Vandergrift, a South Philadelphia gay man who disputes that he settled his civil-rights lawsuit against Pennsauken School District officials.

In 2012, Vandergrift filed suit against the Pennsauken School District after district officials reported him to New Jersey authorities as a suspected child molester. The reports subsequently were determined to be unfounded.

Vandergrift claims district officials violated his civil rights and retaliated against him after he advocated for a proper education for his autistic nephew.

School-district officials deny any wrongdoing and maintain that Vandergrift actually settled the case in October, according to court records.

“[A] binding contract exists between the parties that must be enforced,” defendants’ attorneys wrote in court papers.

On Nov. 21, two Pennsauken school-board officials signed a putative settlement agreement with Vandergrift that allocates $215,000 to him for emotional distress. The document was filed in federal court but Vandergrift’s signature doesn’t appear on it.

For his part, Vandergrift denies entering into a binding, legally enforceable settlement agreement with defendants. Instead, he wishes to have a jury trial, according to court records.

The putative settlement agreement also requires that Vandergrift’s attorneys indemnify defendants if any Medicaid liens are attached to Vandergrift’s assets.

Additionally, defendants would “resolve” Vandergrift’s legal bills with his prior attorneys, which reportedly exceed $119,000, according to court records.

Oral arguments on the dispute are scheduled for 11 a.m. Dec. 20 in Courtroom 3c of the U.S. Court House in Camden, with U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider presiding.

Neither side had a comment for this story. 

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