School board member Manny Martinez has been accused of sexual harassment and improper touching in a lawsuit filed by a co-worker from the Community Charter School of Paterson.
Toyreh Blacknell, a substitute teacher at the Community Charter School of Paterson, alleges Martinez engaged in sexually predatory behavior.
She cites a series of alleged incidents in her lawsuit filed this week in federal court. The lawsuit names both the Community Charter School of Paterson and Martinez.
In one incident, Martinez allegedly paged Blacknell to his office to tell her she looked “beautiful” on that day. “If I didn’t have these blinds in here, you never know what might happen,” Martinez allegedly said to Blacknell in his office.
Martinez served as her superior at the charter school. He served as her direct supervisor in an after-school program. He is listed as director of community schools at the Community Charter School of Paterson.
“I can tell you that it’s a false and baseless claim,” said Martinez responding to the allegations. “It’s completely false and completely baseless.” Martinez said he needs to speak with the school’s attorney before making additional comments.
In another incident, Martinez followed Blacknell up a flight of stairs and allegedly commented to her: “[You] need to put on some panties. Trust me, I know you’re not wearing panties.”
Martinez also “pestered” Blacknell with unwanted advances. Once, he allegedly told her, “When are we going to go out?” and “We can go out before he (Blacknell’s boyfriend) gets home.”
The lawsuit states, one time, Blacknell’s boyfriend brought food for her at the school. Seeing this, Martinez allegedly told her, “Don’t be bringing your boyfriend in here. I will beat him up.”
Blacknell told Martinez not to “disrespect her or her boyfriend and walked away,” says the complaint.
Martinez sexually teased her on different occasions, claims the lawsuit. For example, Martinez, one time, told her he had good news, but he would only share if she planted a kiss on his cheek.
Blacknell claims the sexual harassment was not limited to comments. She alleges Martinez on multiple occasions attempted to hug her below the waist. She rebuffed each unwanted sexual advance, but Martinez kept up.
A few days after the food-drop-off incident, Martinez tried to apologize to Blacknell. He allegedly tried to hug her again below the waist during the apology, according to the lawsuit.
Blacknell told Martinez he needed to keep his hands to himself and she “will never like him romantically.”
Blacknell complained about Martinez’s conduct to both principal Chloe Lewis and chief executive officer Mark Valli. Lewis allegedly brushed off her complaint by telling Blacknell Martinez flirts with everyone. She received a similar response from Valli, according to her complaint.
“No action was taken to improve the situation,” said Robert Salaman of the Akin Law Group of New York City which is representing Blacknell. He said discovery in the case will show whether other women filed complaints against Martinez for sexual harassment at the school.
Valli left the school in the summer and could not be reached for comments. A message left at Lewis’s office went unanswered on Wednesday.
The alleged conduct occurred between Sept. 2016 and Apr. 2017. It intensified when Blacknell was working at the after-school program beginning in Jan. 2017. She left on medical leave in April of 2017.
Salaman said the overwhelming stress due to the constant sexual harassment led to Blacknell taking a medical leave. She never returned from that leave.
“They constructively fired her,” said Salaman. “She was forced to go on medical leave because the sexual harassment was so pervasive. She complained about it; nothing was done. That only exacerbated the stress and she was forced to leave.”
Salaman said the school effectively terminated her by failing to take preventative actions. She complained the two high ranking school officials in March. She was terminated from the after-school program by Martinez in the same month.
“Me and you, we’re not working out, we’re not getting along,” Martinez allegedly told Blacknell prior to allegedly retaliating against her.
“Blacknell was terminated from the after-school program for rejecting the sexual advances of her supervisor and for complaining about the sexual harassment to her superiors,” reads the complaint filed on Monday. She did not file any police reports of the alleged harassment incidents, according to the attorney.
Martinez has been working at the Community Charter School of Paterson for 10 years. His base salary at the school is $75,000. He said he has an “unbesmirched” employment record at the school.
Martinez also serves as a school board member at the Paterson Public School District. The district is an entirely separate entity from the charter school which is owned by the New Jersey Community Development Corporation (NJCDC).
Bob Guarasci, head of the NJCDC, declined to comment on the allegations stating he has yet to see the complaint document.
Martinez was the highest vote-getter in the 2016 school board election. He regained his school board seat after a brief period in which he was out of office. He is a possible candidate for mayor in next year’s election.