School security officers file sexual harassment lawsuit
By ERIN ROLL
Two Montclair High School female security officers have filed a lawsuit against the Montclair Board of Education, alleging sexual harassment and a hostile work environment by a security supervisor and other staff, and gender discrimination in work assignments.
Stacie Taborn-Mentor and Laurie Velez, security officers at the high school, filed the suit in March, alleging that they were subjected to sexual comments, demeaning remarks and less-than-optimal work assignments by coworkers, including Paul Morgan, a security supervisor and then-principal James Earle.
Earle and Morgan are not named as defendants. Other than the BOE, defendants named in the suit are John Doe 1-5.
“Male security personnel would require plaintiffs to address female dress code violations, but then state that they did not care if plaintiffs addressed it because then they could ‘stare at their asses all day because they’re hanging out,’” the complaint alleges.
Taborn-Mentor and Velez overheard male coworkers, including supervisors, make comments about the attractiveness of female students, female visitors to the school, and female employees, according to the suit. “When student’s mothers, who the men considered attractive would visit the school, the men would make comments such as ‘add that one to our books’ and ‘look at her body.’”
The complaint further alleges that then-principal Earle joined in some of these remarks about visitors. “On a date after his departure, one of the male security officers stated, ‘If Mr. Earle was here, there would have been a code to say add them to our books.’”
Regarding Taborn-Mentor, the complaint alleges that Morgan disparaged her about her choice of footwear. “In May of 2016, Mr. Morgan disparaged plaintiff Taborn-Mentor for changing from heels to flat shoes. The following September, he asked plaintiff Taborn-Mentor to review a paper he had written on why women should wear stiletto heels,” the complaint read.
The complaint alleged that Morgan took a video of Velez when she was in a bar with some co-workers, filming her consensual interaction with a male coworker. The video was then allegedly shared among school staff.
“When confronted by plaintiff Velez in September of 2016, Mr. Morgan stated that he wanted a supervisory role for which they had both applied and that he would do ‘anything’ to sabotage her name. Thereafter, plaintiff Velez regularly heard passing comments from other personnel, including teachers, about her sexual proclivities and physical appearance. Those comments have continued into the 2018-2019 academic year,” the suit alleges.
No action was taken when Velez complained to Earle, on “numerous” occasions, about the alleged behavior, according to the document: “Velez reported the same to principal Earle, but the comments continued unabated. In fact, over the years, Velez made numerous complaints to principal Earle, all of which proved ineffective.”
The complaint further alleges that that Taborn-Mentor and Velez were relegated to clerical-type duties while male officers continued to perform investigations, and that male officers were more likely to be assigned overtime.
The school district denied the allegations, including the allegations that male security staff were favored for overtime, in its answer to the complaint, which was filed by the district’s legal counsel, Suzanne Marasco.
The case was filed in Essex County Superior Court on March 26. The last action on the case was taken in September, according to court records, when the case was referred for mediation on Sept. 4.
Marasco declined to comment on the matter. Kevin Costello, who is representing Taborn-Mentor and Velez, also declined comment on the matter.