On May 16, 2023, the Weehawken Board of Education discreetly settled a lawsuit for $700,000 with a male student who alleged he was sexually abused by his art teacher during the 1978-79 academic year at Woodrow Wilson Junior High School.
The plaintiff, now 58 and residing in California, identified his eighth-grade art teacher as Janis Tepe, also known as Janis Maltin. Referred to as “Plaintiff-PC 19” in the lawsuit, he asserted that Tepe exploited her role to manipulate and sexually harm him for her own satisfaction. He claimed that instances of “forceful” sexual abuse took place both in Tepe’s residence and another Weehawken teacher’s apartment.
The lawsuit was filed under New Jersey’s Child Sexual Abuse Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:61B-1. This act permits victims to take legal action within two years of realizing or when they reasonably should have, the correlation between their injuries and the abuse they endured. The court then determines the official date of the cause of action based on the earlier of these two dates.
According to a newspaper article written at the time the suit was filed, Maltin, now 74, who the journalist reached by phone for her comment, said “Oh my god, I have nothing to say, I can’t even validate this.”
According to the school district’s response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, a person named Tepe was employed as an art teacher from September 1, 1971 though to her resignation on June 30, 1988. Also, pension records available at Gannett’s DataUniverse shows Maltin as receiving a $769.67 monthly pension allowance.
The case is captioned PC-19 Doe v. Weehawken School District, et al, Docket No. HUD-L-3305-20 and the plaintiff was represented by Ari L. Taub of Lawrenceville. The civil lawsuit and settlement order are in a combined PDF file on-line here.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which the plaintiff agreed that the settlement and its terms and amounts be kept confidential. Fortunately, however, 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 the former student’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlements typically states that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Weehawken, Tepe (Maltin) or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Weehawken school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the former student $700,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision to settle 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 settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.