Jersey City superintendent of schools files federal lawsuit alleging hostile work environment

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Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles has filed a federal lawsuit against the local board of education, the Jersey City Education Association and others alleging a hostile work environment and “tortious interference.” 

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“Unburdened by state supervision and aware that the Lyles’ contract had been extended, during 2018 and extending into 2019, and the individual defendants and the JCEA have engaged in a pattern of harassment and misconduct towards Lyles, culminating on January 2nd, 2019, with an unlawful Board Resolution of non-renewal of her contract,” the suit says.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday and also named BOE President Sudhan Thomas, JCEA President Ron Greco and Trustee Marilyn Roman. Lyles is represented by Stephen Edelstein of the Weiner Law Group.

At the BOE’s annual reorganization meeting on January 2nd, Trustee Marilyn Roman introduced an add-on resolution to vote on the non-renewal of Lyles contract.

The measure passed 7-1 and has drawn scrutiny since it was not a part of the original agenda and the lawsuit characterizes the move as another example of “harassment and misconduct” by the board.

Through her attorney, Lyles says that the JCEA, Greco Thomas and Roman conspired to introduce the resolution, which she claims “was illegally added” and the sole purpose was to “embarrass and defame” the superintendent.

The lawsuit also makes serious claims about Thomas, claiming he “has grossly exceeded his lawful role as a board member, has continuously harassed the superintendent, has interacted directly with staff, bypassing the Superintendent, and purporting to instruct them and sometimes threaten them.”

In response, Thomas called the complaint “frivolous” and “retaliatory.”

“I am extremely disappointed that the Superintendent has chosen to file this frivolous and clearly retaliatory complaint against Jersey City. This will be another financial burden on the district in defending these baseless allegations which will lead to further diversion of resources away from the 30,000 students in the classrooms,” he said.

“JCBOE is confident that we have acted appropriately and legally with the right legal counsel advise in dealing with the Superintendent of Schools and the District will take all steps possible to have this ‘fake complaint’ dismissed.”

The January 24th special meeting of the board was characterized in a similar way to the January 2nd one, with the suit alleging it had “no business purpose whatsoever” designed to “attempt to drive the last nail into the coffin of Lyles’ superintendency, authority, and reputation.”

The special meeting largely centered around public comment where at least a dozen teachers, including Greco, were highly critical of Lyles’ job performance.

After that meeting, Roman told us that she had no regrets about introducing the resolution in question at the previous public session.

“Any board member, on any subject that they want to have addressed by the board, can bring a resolution to the attention of the board at any meeting, and they don’t have to tell anybody that,” Roman said at the time.

Additionally, the JCEA leader was dismissive of the complaint, saying that educators and parents are not going to sing a different tune just because of a court filing.

“I do not know what Marcia Lyles hopes to accomplish by suing me personally and suing the JCEA. Clearly one’s expression of though and freedom of speech is not acceptable to Marcia Lyles, which she has had her partners on the BOE reiterate numerous times at public meetings,” Greco told HCV.

“The voices of our parents and educators will not be silenced by a frivolous lawsuit.”

The suit alleges that Lyles has been subject to a hostile work environment and “tortious interference,” and as a result, she is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as, attorney’s fees and costs of suit and any other relief the court deems necessary.

Edelstein did not immediately return an email seeking further comment.

A copy of the suit can be read here.

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