On September 17, 2020, the Teaneck School District (Bergen County) confidentially paid $50,000 to a non-renewed special education teacher who claimed that her school principal was “a creep” who retaliated against her after she rebuffed his romantic overtures.

In her lawsuit, filed on December 17, 2019, Grace Kenny claimed that when she began working as a teacher at the Whittier Elementary School, her principal, Pedro H. Valdes, III was “charismatic and engaging” and “consistently gave her very high evaluations for her teaching.”

She claimed, however, that after a short time, Valdes’ “behavior toward [her] turned disturbing and intimidating at best.” Kenny claimed that Valdes was demanding a lot of attention from her “in ways that had nothing to do with teaching [and] was making improper and harassing overtures towards her.”

Valdes texted Kenny “I’m interested in your view of me…lol. just a big jock? Nerd? Softy?” according to the lawsuit. In Spring 2017, Valdes allegedly asked Kenny “to go out drinking after work with him.” When he reportedly leaned in and made a motion to hug her and kiss her on the cheek, she pulled away and “gave him an awkward high five instead” which caused him to laugh.

When Kenny was leaving an after-work party with a friend in November 2017, Valdes said to her “What is that? A booty call coming to pick you up,” according to the lawsuit. There was also a reported incident in which Valdes told Kenny that she should keep her high-heeled shoes on because she looked good in them.

Kenny said that she started speaking to other employees about Valdes’ alleged behavior and also was “concerned upon learning that Mr. Valdes was driving school children in his car alone.” When she brought this concern to Valdes’ attention, he allegedly became “notably defensive” and started treating her “in a harsh and berating matter,” according to the suit. She said that another employee complained that Valdes had “took [her] downstairs for supplies for the bulletin board and was hitting on [her]” and that he needs “to get a f***ing warning about hitting on his employees.”

Kenny claimed that she was “summarily terminated” by Valdes after he called her to his office on May 11, 2018. According to the lawsuit, Valdes told Kenny that “her contract would not be renewed, and she would not be rehired for the 2018-2019 school year [and that] there would no longer be a multiple disability classroom and there was lowered enrollment in Whittier.” She said that she learned a short while later that there were several Elementary and Special Education positions available that she was qualified to teach.

According to the school district’s June 21, 2021 response to a records request, Kenny worked from December 19, 2016 to June 30, 2018 as a “Special Education Teacher-Autistic” at an annual salary of $54,300. The reason she separated from employment was “non-renewed.” The response showed that Valdes was employed from August 20, 2012 to present date (i.e., June 21, 2021) and most recently worked as “Interim Principal” at an annual salary of $165,539. As of the date of this writing, a person named “Pedro Valdes” is listed on the school’s employee director as the principal of Teaneck High School.

The case is captioned Grace Kenny v. Teaneck Board of Education, et al, Docket No. BER-L-8602-19 and the Kenny’s attorneys were David Zatuchni of Lambertville and Hope A. Lang of Oradell. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which Kenny agreed to keep the settlement agreement and agreed that “all of its terms are and will remain confidential to the maximum extent permitted by law.” Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the employees or officials named in the lawsuit. Kenny’s allegations against Valdes are just that–allegations. All that is known for sure is that the Teaneck School District or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kenny $50,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]