Education

Lawsuit by former Assistant Principal Alleges Sexual Harassment, ‘Culture of Tolerance’ for Abuse in Hackensack Schools

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Hackensack High School Credits: Hackensack Public Schools
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HACKENSACK, NJ -- The Hackensack Board of Education and Acting Superintendent of Schools Rosemary Marks are among more than 30 defendants named in an explosive lawsuit filed by Denise Vega-Moore, a former Hackensack Middle School Assistant Principal. Moore alleges that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by her immediate supervisor, former Hackensack Middle School Principal Cory Jones, starting immediately after she was hired in August of 2014 and continuing throughout her time at the school.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court in Bergen County on April 4, claims that Moore was also harassed by other administrators and staff and eventually fired by the school board after she reported the alleged sexual harassment to then-School Superintendent Joseph Cicchelli in June of 2016.

Acting Superintendent Marks has thus far not responded to multiple requests for comment from TAPinto Hackensack regarding the claims made in the lawsuit, though her office acknowledged receiving the requests.

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Among other salacious charges, the lawsuit claims that Jones repeatedly grabbed Moore around her waist, made sexual jokes about coworkers, kissed Moore on the cheek, asked her to attend a PTA event dressed as a “sexy elf,” attempted to discuss buying sex toys, made “unsolicited comments about the size of his genitals” and “…placed his hands on the crotch of his pants” as he made the comments.

Jones, who is now working as the executive director of a school enrichment program based in Middlesex County, said that he had not yet received any legal notice regarding the lawsuit and denied the allegations.

"This is the first I've heard of any type of lawsuit,” said Jones. “I'm not aware."

The lawsuit further alleges that there is a “well known culture of tolerance for sexual harassment and protection of harassers within the (school) district,” and also that school employees were “directly warned” not to report sexual harassment.

Reached by phone, Board of Education President Jason Nunnermacker stated that he was not familiar with the lawsuit. When he was told about the allegations, Nunnermacker, who is a practicing attorney, said that all of the charges are false.

The lawsuit claims that Jones warned Moore, who was not a tenured employee at the district, not to report any incidents and to “stay in her lane” because the school administration was, “on his side.”Moore’s lawsuit also names former Interim School Superintendent Nicole Adams, claiming that Adams witnessed the harassment by Jones and texted Moore asking, “did you enjoy your sexual harassment today?” and also “…well that’s job security…don’t get mad.”

The lawsuit also claims that Jones was allowed to conduct Moore’s annual performance review even after she accused him of sexually harassing her.

Moore’s lawsuit also claims that she was retaliated against by the school district for reporting what she believed to be “impermissible teacher assistance during the 2016 PARCC,” a state standardized test. Moore’s lawsuit says that she sent an email to the state Department of Education reporting the alleged cheating on April 25, 2017. According to the lawsuit, her email account was being monitored by school administrators at the time.

On May 23, 2017, the Board of Education voted to fire Moore for, “conduct unbecoming of a teacher.” The lawsuit also claims that the Board tried to stop Moore from collecting unemployment benefits.

Moore is seeking reinstatement to her former position, back pay, compensatory and punitive damages and reimbursement for legal costs.

The full lawsuit filed by Vega Moore is available herepdf. Check back with TAPinto Hackensack for more on this developing story. 

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