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John Jay Principal Resigned Over 'Dispute,' Waived Right To Sue District

John Jay High School Principal Jessica Godin, pictured, abruptly resigned in October, although her exit is not official until next June.
John Jay High School Principal Jessica Godin, pictured, abruptly resigned in October, although her exit is not official until next June. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CROSS RIVER, N.Y. – When it was announced last month that John Jay High School Principal Jessica Godin was resigning, the only specified reason for her abrupt departure was for “personal reasons.” However, documentation of Godin's exit shows that her departure was not an amicable one.

A settlement contract between Godin and the Katonah-Lewisboro school district, dated Oct. 15, shows that the parties had an unspecified “dispute,” which the agreement was meant to solve. The settlement, which detailed Godin's resignation terms, states that it is being carried out in lieu of litigation between the two sides.

A copy of the settlement can be read here.

The school board voted unanimously to accept Godin's resignation at its Oct. 15 meeting, records show. The meeting's agenda shows that Godin's name was not mentioned in the voting item. Daily Voice was able to confirm that the affected employee was Godin through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIL) request to the school district, which was also used to obtain the settlement copy.

For all intents and purposes, Godin stepped down in October when she relinquished her duties. However, Godin is technically still employed by Katonah-Lewisboro until June 30, according to the settlement and the board's vote.

The settlement calls for Godin to exhaust her paid sick and vacation days before continuing with an uncategorized paid leave. Godin will receive her full salary and benefits for the duration of her employment, the settlement adds.

Godin, who joined the district in 2011 as principal of Katonah Elementary School, only became the high school's principal in July 2014. The school board, records show, voted at its Nov. 12 meeting to appoint Assistant Principals Kim Piccolino and Gil Cass as interim co-principals for the remainder of the school year.

While the settlement does not specify the cause of Godin's departure, it outlines several laws that she has agreed not to use against the school district through lawsuits. The federal statutes that Godin waived her right to sue under include the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990; the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978; the Civil Rights acts of 1964 and 1991; the Equal Pay Act of 1963; and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Godin also waived her rights to sue under the state's human rights, civil rights and equal pay laws.

The settlement also includes a mutual non-disparagement clause for both parties. Both sides also agreed to keep the settlement confidential, with exceptions including disclosures pursuant to FOIL, involvement from the state's education commissioner or as part of litigation. A letter of reference from Superintendent Andrew Selesnick that documents Godin's employment history is also included.

The district chose to redact part of a paragraph on the first page, which appears to include background information about the matter between the two parties. Daily Voice appealed the decision to Selesnick, who serves as the district's appeals officer for FOIL requests. Selesnick denied the appeal to release the redacted text, arguing that doing so “would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of an employee's employment history” before citing an exemption under FOIL.

Daily Voice shared copies of Selesnick's decision and Godin's settlement with Robert Freeman, who is executive director of the state's Committee on Open Government.

Freeman disagreed with Selesnick to some extent.

“The Superintendent referred to the denial based on the contention that disclosure would involve Ms. Godin’s employment history,” he wrote. “However, the phrase 'employment history' typically refers to the nature of jobs/employment held by an individual. A settlement agreement could not, in my view, be characterized as an employment history.”

As the full settlement was not available, Freeman offered a caveat about weighing in.

“Without knowing the content of the redacted material, an unequivocal response cannot be given.”

However, Freeman did weigh in on broader precedent regarding disclosure.

“It is clear, based on numerous judicial decisions, that public employees enjoy a lesser protection of privacy than others, for it has been found that those persons are required to be more accountable than others,” he wrote. “In numerous circumstances, it has been found by the courts that those items or elements of personnel records that relate to one’s duties are generally public, for disclosure would result in a permissible, not an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

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