On October 5, 2023, the Montclair Board of Education in Essex County, NJ, quietly reached a settlement to pay $155,000 to a former teacher. The settlement was in response to her lawsuit claiming that the school officials failed to adequately protect her from harassment by a colleague.

In her lawsuit, Marleen Awad, a former math teacher who taught at Montclair High School since January 2011, claimed that she experienced a series of threatening incidents involving a male colleague, Dana Rubin, also a math teacher, starting in April 2018. According to Awad’s lawsuit, Rubin, while discussing a lesson plan, “put his hand in [Awad’s] face, kept shoving his hand and started yelling ‘you do not know what you are talking about.'” Awad said that she reported the incident to the principal who allegedly “implemented a directive requiring Rubin to stay away from [her].”

Rubin continued to intimidate Awad by entering the math office, staring, laughing, and invading her personal space, according to the lawsuit. These actions, according to Awad, created a hostile and abusive work environment caused her to make several reports to school management. Awad claimed that the situation escalated to the point where she for her safety, resulting in her taking medical leave due to the stress and emotional distress caused by these incidents.

Awad claimed that despite her complaints, Rubin was not removed from the math room, and the school’s management failed to take effective measures to address the alleged harassment.

Of the $155,000 settlement, $10,311 was considered lost wages and $93,023 was attributed to alleged personal injury. The remaining $51,666 was for Awad’s attorney’s fees and costs.

According to the school district’s response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Awad resigned her position on September 2, 2019 at which time she was earning an annual salary of $69,755. The response also showed that Rubin was still working as a high school math teacher at an an annual salary of $111,940.

The case is captioned Marleen Awad v. Monclair Public Schools, et al, Docket No. ESX-L-53-19 and Awad was represented by Margaret T. Korgul of Fort Lee. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreement are in a combined PDF file on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause under which Awad 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 Awad’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Montclair Board of Education, Rubin or other school officials. All that is known for sure is that the Montclair school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Awad $155,000 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.

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