School board member Manny Martinez’s employer, the Community Charter School of Paterson, has agreed to pay $90,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by a former co-worker.
Toyreh Blacknell, a former substitute teacher at the Community Charter School of Paterson, accused Martinez of making unwanted sexual advances. She says in her lawsuit she rebuffed his advances and was ultimately fired from her job.
Blacknell alleges in her lawsuit the harassment began when she started working for the charter school’s after-school program in Jan. 2017. She began working as a substitute teacher in May 2016 before becoming a permanent substitute in Sept. 2016 for a $40,000 salary.
In the after-school program, Blacknell reported directly to Martinez.
Martinez allegedly made a series of sexual comments. 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,” he allegedly said to her in his office.
In another incident, Martinez followed Blacknell up a flight of stairs and allegedly commented, “I know you’re not wearing panties.”
In yet another incident, Martinez told her, “I want to dunk you like a donut.”
Martinez “pestered” her with unwanted advances. Once, he allegedly told her, “When are we going to go out?”
Blacknell claims in her lawsuit the situation went beyond inappropriate comments. She alleges the sexual harassment included unwanted attempted touching. On multiple occasions, Martinez allegedly tried to hug her slightly below the waist only to be told to keep his hands off, according to the lawsuit.
Blacknell complained to school officials, but little was done against Martinez, according to the lawsuit. She was instead terminated from her role in the after-school program as retaliation.
“Me and you, we’re not working out, we’re not getting along,” Martinez is said to have told her when he terminated her, according to the lawsuit.
Martinez has called the allegations against him “false.”
“The claims against me were dismissed and the school found it in its best interests to resolve the situation,” said Martinez in a statement on Tuesday morning.
The charter school is paying $36,000 to pay for her legal fees, $2,500 for backpay, and $51,500 to her directly. The school paid $25,000 and the rest is being covered by its insurance company, according to Curtis Palmore, chief executive officer of the Community Charter School of Paterson.
The school struck a “settlement in principle” following a meeting between lawyers on Jun. 18, according to court documents. On Jul. 31, when the Paterson Times sought a copy of the settlement agreement, Curtis Palmore, the school’s principal, said there was no such document.
“The settlement makes clear that there was no wrongdoing in this matter by Mr. Martinez and it was the considered judgment of the school’s Board of Trustees that the best interests of the school would be served through a settlement,” said Palmore.
Martinez has worked at the charter school for almost 10 years. He serves as director of community schools for $74,000, according to payroll records.
Allegations in the case have nothing to do with Martinez’s position at the Paterson Public School District.
Martinez is running for re-election in November.
This report was updated with comments from the CEO of the charter school on Aug. 22, 2018 at 9 a.m.