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Hackensack NJ Assistant Principal Files Suit Alleging Antisemitism, Gender Discrimination

Hackensack Middle School Assistant Principal Adi Madden has filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education, former Board of Education President Lancelot Powell and two employees of the district, Julio Morel, a fellow assistant principal at Hackensack Middle School and Michael DeOrio, an English teacher at Hackensack Middle School. The lawsuit alleges pay discrimination, hostile work environment, gender, religious and ethnicity discrimination and retaliation. Madden is seeking damages, including, according to the lawsuit, “back pay and benefits, front pay and benefits, and economic damages for career path losses; compensatory damages, including damages for pain and suffering; consequential damages; treble damages under the [Law Against Discrimination]/Equal Pay Act; attorneys’ fees and cost of suit; punitive damages; and such other relief as the court may deem equitable and just.” 

According to the lawsuit filed on March 23, Madden began working at Hackensack Public Schools in 2007, working as a gifted and talented teacher for students in first through fourth grades until approximately 2013. That year, Madden became a fifth-grade science teacher, before being promoted to Hackensack Middle School’s Assistant Principal in 2017. 

Although her work as Assistant Principal was “substantially similar” to the work of her male peers, the lawsuit states that Madden was paid “substantially less” than the male Assistant Principals at the middle school, including Robert Greenwood, Daryl Avery and Mark Johnson. The lawsuit alleges that Madden’s gender, Jewish religion and Israeli origin were a factor in the Board of Education’s decision to pay her less. 

The lawsuit states that Madden first recalled being openly discriminated against in April 2016, where the Board of Education denied her “movement of salary guide for recognition for earned graduate credits.” Madden filed a grievance after her denial where during an executive session of the Board of Education before the hearing, “comments were made by Board of Education members regarding Ms. Madden’s service in the Israeli military and board members openly joked whether Ms. Madden thought she should get special treatment based on this service.” 

The lawsuit claims discrimination continued by the Board of Education in May 2016, where Madden requested funeral days after the death of an immediate family member. The lawsuit alleges Madden was denied her time off while another employee of the district was granted funeral days for the death of a family member with the same relation as Madden’s loss. After complaining she was wrongfully denied funeral days, “the Board retaliated against Ms. Madden by serving her with a letter indicating that she was being transferred to the elementary school,” the lawsuit states. 

After receiving this letter and being caused “great anxiety and stress,” Madden called her Union representative and informed them of the situation occurring. The lawsuit states that Madden was not transferred, “only because she was strong enough to call the Board out for their attempted retaliatory transfer.” The Board then offered Madden her funeral leave again. 

The lawsuit states that discrimination continued in December 2016, when Madden “was the only internal candidate that was not granted an interview for an assistant principal position notwithstanding the fact that Ms. Madden applied for the position.” Madden again called her Union representative and was called for an interview two hours after with a different interview panel than the other candidates had. The lawsuit says, “Ms. Madden’s interview was clearly perfunctory and the decision to hire a male assistant principal had already been made.” The lawsuit claims Julio Morel was promoted to this position and Madden was not considered due to being an Israeli female. Shortly afterward, another assistant principal position was open and Madden was hired for the position. 

With her new promotion, the lawsuit alleges that Morel “has relentlessly harassed and mistreated Ms. Madden based upon her sex/gender (female), creed/religion (Jewish), national origin/ancestry (Israeli).” The lawsuit states that Morel has referred to Madden as “Blonde B****” and “Blonde B**** who does nothing” and the Board of Education has not taken steps to prevent this. Morel is also accused of going into the schools’ Genesis system to reassign his tasks to Madden. 

In April 2017, the lawsuit states that Michael DeOrio, a teacher at Hackensack Middle School, began “his relentless campaign of harassment” starting with allegations that Madden knew of a testing monitor would sleep while proctoring testing. The suit claims DeOrio knowingly made this false claim to cause Madden harm. DeOrio is also accused of making a second false accusation, stating Madden said his teaching assignment was to be moved since he was no longer the Union’s president. 

As the only female assistant principal in the district, the lawsuit alleges that Madden is given more work than her male peers and paid less than their salaries, along with being “forced to endure harassing and discriminatory treatment.” 

Around April 2019, a “frivolous complaint” was made to the Board of Education about Madden. The matter was purposefully delayed, according to the lawsuit, stating that the Board’s President at the time, Lancelot Powell, turned the complaint into an Affirmative Action complaint, filed during the meeting. Following this incident, Madden was reassigned to the fifth grade’s Assistant Principal, being forced to relocate across the building for the new, believed to be retaliatory, position. 

In June 2019, the lawsuit says Madden filed a complaint of hostile work environment and discrimination to the Affirmative Action Officer, stating she was subject to “gender discrimination, false allegations, inequitable work distribution as well as demeaning, derogatory and highly offensive comments.” This complaint has remained open and unaddressed, according to the lawsuit.  

Much like the February lawsuit filed against the Board of Education by Assistant Superintendent Rosemary Marks, Madden’s lawsuit alleges that she “has been the target of a pattern of baseless accusations, complaints and Affirmative Action filings that have been filed, encouraged to be filed, supported and purposefully mishandled by Morel, DeOrio, Powell and the Board, intentionally designed to harass, intimidate, and prevent and prevent Ms. Madden from doing her job all in a concerted effort to discriminate against her based upon her gender and ancestry.” The lawsuit also alleges Powell has tried to remove Madden from her position and encouraged filings against her. 

In December 2019, DeOrio filed an affirmative action complaint against her, which remained open until February 8, 2022, one day after Rosemary Mark’s lawsuit was filed. The case was closed with “not sustained” allegations. The over two years the investigation took violates the Board’s policy of timely investigations such as this, according to the lawsuit. 

In January 2020, Morel’s harassment continued, according to the lawsuit, stating that Madden said: “black and brown students in our schools are being sent on ‘cigarette runs’ by their parents when they return home from school and their parents aren’t able to help them with their school work.” The lawsuit states that this quote was not said by Madden but was said by an unnamed male employee of the district. When Morel learned this was not said by Madden, his outrage at the original comment disappeared, according to the lawsuit. 

While DeOrio’s false complaint was being investigated the lawsuit states that Madden was still made to handle DeOrio’s requests for schedule changes and other matters, despite requesting to not be involved in matters with him. DeOrio has also called Madden a “c***” in text messages and told Madden, “my boy is on it.” The lawsuit states the message was in reference to a continued attack on Madden. When Madden informed the school of these messages, the school said there was nothing that could be done due to “freedom of speech.” 

In August 2021, teachers were talking with Madden about the start of school falling on the Jewish Holiday, Rosh Hashanah. The lawsuit states teachers confided in Madden about having to “choose” between the students and one of the Holiest days in the Jewish religion, especially with the learning loss of the pandemic. Madden brought the concern of negative reflection of employment for taking the first day of Rosh Hashanah off to the Administration, where she was told her comments would be taken into consideration. According to the lawsuit, Madden did not openly discuss her religious beliefs before this. 

A few short months later in November 2021, Madden arrived at her office to see a swastika drawn on her office’s window. Four months after the first incident, Madden had a swastika and the word “B****” drawn on her car. The defendants of the case did not discuss the incidents with students, staff and the public nor did they educate the wrongfulness of these actions, the lawsuit states. 

Legal counsel for the Hackensack Board of Education, Lester E. Taylor III, said, “I, nor any members or Administrators of the Hackensack Board of Education, can comment on pending litigation. The Board looks forward to handling this litigation matter in a court of law.” 

“Ms. Madden is a long-time and well respected Hackensack Public Schools educator who has been the target of deplorable anti-Semitic acts, harassment and false allegations,” said Brian J. Aloia, who is representing Madden in this lawsuit. “The former school board president has repeatedly used his position of power and influence to work behind the scenes with district employees to falsely accuse her and file baseless affirmative action complaints. She has endured repeated vile and misogynistic attacks on her character and is now standing up for herself.”