The school board agreed to pay $200,000 on Wednesday night to settle a lawsuit filed by a teacher alleging she was discriminated against for being a white lesbian.
Noreen Sweeney, who was a social studies teacher at International High School, sued the district after she was moved from her teaching post to the “rubber room,” a place employees are assigned to when accused of misconduct, for an “open investigation,” according to her lawsuit.
Sweeney was never told why she was being transferred to the rubber room, says her lawsuit. She later learned the investigation she was under had to do with alleged comments she made to her class in Feb. 2014 about Amod Field.
Field was the vice principal of International High School at the time, according to the lawsuit. Two students told Robina Puryear-Castro, principal of International High School, that Sweeney told the class certain administrators were over paid and abused their power. Furthermore, she allegedly told her class a female student was beaten up at a school where Field was principal.
Sweeney denied making the alleged comment when Castro inquired. She was backed up by 21 of her 23 students in the classroom, according to the lawsuit.
Sweeney claims she was assigned to the rubber room because she is a “white, female, homosexual.” In her lawsuit, she says another employee, Moses McKenzie, who was accused of taking a selfie with two students watching pornography on a cellphone, was not assigned to the rubber room pending an investigation.
McKenzie is African-American, male, and heterosexual, says the lawsuit. He was allowed to return to work following a 19-day investigation.
Sweeney named Castro, former superintendent Donnie Evans, and security director James Smith. She alleged Smith “continually bullied and harassed” her for the two-year period she had to spend in the rubber room “doing nothing.”
Sweeney had been working in Paterson from 2001. Her salary was $98,600 in 2016, according to district payroll records. She received “consistently positive” performance reviews throughout that time. She is no longer on the district’s payroll, according to public records.
She had previously worked at Newark and Waldwick public schools. Before that, she served in the U.S. Military, according to her lawsuit.
School board members approved the settlement without making any public comments following a closed-door meeting with district attorneys.
The district is paying $70,000 of the settlement while its insurance provider is covering the rest, $130,000, said chief attorney Robert Murray. This does not include the attorney fees the district expended in defending itself in court.
Sweeney’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comments on Thursday morning.
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