Citing breach-of-confidentiality concerns, the Pennsauken School District wants to inspect the computer of Thomas Vandergrift, who’s suing the district for civil-rights violations.
Vandergrift, who is gay, claims district officials retaliated against him for advocating for a proper education for his nephew by accusing him of child molestation. He sued in 2012, seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages.
Earlier this month, district officials sought permission from U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider to inspect Vandergrift’s computer, emails and Facebook accounts.
In their motion, district officials contend that Vandergrift publicly disclosed confidential information about the case, and the search is necessary to determine the extent of his alleged breaches of confidentiality.
“In the alternative, defendants request that [Vandergrift] be ordered to identify all known email addresses and Facebook accounts and provide all relevant emails, private messages or any other electronic communication related to this matter,” the motion states.
Attorneys for the school district had no comment for this story.
Vandergrift denies violating any confidentiality requirements in the case.
“Everything I stated is what my family has lived through or continues to live through,” he told PGN. “None of that information has been received from any sealed files, but [from] our own real-life experience.”
In court papers, district officials note they’ve produced more than 17,000 pages of documents pertaining to the case.
But Vandergrift said most of those documents are blacked-out and garbled.
“I do believe this [inspection request] shows just how much the Pennsauken School District continues to harass and intimidate me and my family,” he said. “The district is attempting to run us into the ground financially, so that we’ll give up.”
Vandergrift added he’s incurred about $83,000 in legal fees and costs.
A hearing on the district’s request to inspect the computer is tentatively set for April 10 at the U.S. Courthouse in Camden.
“They’re on a fishing expedition and a witch hunt to make me the one on trial, not them,” Vandergrift said. “I have nothing to hide but I won’t allow my privacy to be violated. I’m not going to be a party to their continuing games and intimidation tactics.”
The district also wants Vandergrift held in contempt of court for his Facebook postings, which allegedly violate confidentiality requirements.
“As far as the motion to hold me in contempt for my Facebook postings, all of that is public information or firsthand knowledge because my family and I have been living through this hellish ordeal,” Vandergrift said. “I respect the court and in particular, Judge Schneider, as well as the laws of the state of New Jersey. At no time have I deliberately violated — nor, do I believe, unintentionally violated — laws, nor confidentiality.”
Vandergrift said he has a First-Amendment right to speak out against false child-molestation allegations.
“The district has tried to silence me from the get-go,” he concluded. “I’m just glad I have the inner fortitude to speak out against their false child-molestation accusations.”
The case is in the discovery phase, and a jury trial is expected early next year.
From our media partner PGN