What is it about working in the public sector?

No, we're not bashing government workers - most of them are, in fact, dedicated public servants. But today's issue is the number of lawsuits that are filed against municipalities, school boards and other governmental bodies by disgruntled current or former employees.

Are public-sector supervisors so inept that they are constantly doing things for which they can be sued? Apparently.

In the past two months, Galloway Township has twice paid out $250,000 to settle lawsuits. The Northfield Board of Education recently settled a disgruntled employee's lawsuit by agreeing to pay her $437,500.

The public officials who agree to pay these settlements invariably say the same thing: The settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing, and the town's or the school board's insurer felt that it would be cheaper to settle rather than go to trial.

Neither of which makes taxpayers feel any better about these settlements, which one way or another come out of their pockets.

Lisa Tilton, Galloway Township's former clerk, got her $250,000 settlement after alleging sexual harassment and other illegal actions. And perhaps even more amazing, although the dollar figure is much lower, Tilton is also receiving a $35,000 settlement from Middle Township. She said officials there unfairly discriminated against her by suggesting she should not be hired because of her litigation in Galloway. Really? That's actionable?

In Northfield, Carol Ferguson is receiving a $437,500 settlement after alleging that she was demoted from a school supervisor position for filing an ethics complaint - which ultimately was dismissed by the state Department of Education's School Ethics Commission - against three school board members and the current superintendent.

These kinds of settlements simply do not appear to occur with such frequency in the private sector.

And one obvious reason may be that a business owner is going to more fiercely protect his or her money. Public officials are playing - and paying - with other people's money - yours.

Certainly, people who have been wronged are entitled to seek redress in the courts. And none of this is a commentary on the particular merits of the lawsuits cited above.

But why are such suits so prevalent? Do public-sector supervisors need better training? It would certainly seem so. Indeed, Galloway's department heads are now undergoing training in the hope that the township will be less likely to be exposed to such suits in the future.

Do public bodies settle too soon because - again - it is other people's money that is at stake? Atlantic City, a hotbed of such suits, recently adopted a more aggressive strategy and is fighting many more lawsuits in court. Settlements and judgments against the city have declined as a result.

And finally, are some public employees just waiting for the slightest opportunity to sue, knowing that no matter how groundless their complaint, they are likely to get a lucrative settlement? Probably.

At the very least, governmental agencies must stop making it so easy for these plaintiffs in waiting.

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