The “overly flirtatious” behavior by Whittier Elementary School Principal Pedro H. Valdes III was “disturbing and intimidating at best," Grace Kenny, 38, charges in a sexual discrimination lawsuit filed in Superior Court in Hackensack.
Kenny taught Whittier pupils with emotional and learning disabilities for a year and a half before she was let go in May 2018, the suit says.
At first, Valdes "lavished praise" on her work and "consistently gave her very high [job] evaluations,” Kenny claims.
Very soon, though, he began demanding “a lot of attention from her in ways that had nothing to do with her teaching," her lawsuit says.
"I'm interested in your view of me…lol. just a big jock? Nerd? Softy?" a February 2017 text allegedly said.
Several weeks after that, the suit contends, Valdes asked Kenny to go out drinking after work. She says she refused but that he continued asking her what she thought of him as a person.
Following an event at the school in November of that year, Valdes tried hugging her and kissing her on the cheek in the parking lot, but she pulled away and gave him an “awkward” high five instead, the suit claims.
That same month, it contends, Valdes asked Kenny if a friend who was giving her a ride home from a pre-Thanksgiving get-together after work was a booty call.
He also whispered "Goodnight Guapa” (the Spanish word for gorgeous or beautiful) as he was leaving another work-related gathering weeks later, the lawsuit says.
A month or so after that, it says, Kenny told Valdes that she considered it unsafe for him to drive students alone in his car.
After that, he began criticizing her teaching, the suit alleges.
Valdes told Kenny on May 11, 2018 that she was being terminated because the school had lost a multiple-disability classroom amid an enrollment decline and that there were no other positions available for her in the upcoming school year, according to the lawsuit.
Four days later, it says, the district posted openings for two special education teachers – one of them at Whittier.
Valdes couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.
The lawsuit filed in Hackensack accuses him and the Teaneck Board of Education of sexual discrimination, allowing a hostile work environment and other violations of New Jersey’s discrimination law. It seeks punitive and compensatory damages, along with lawyers’ fees.
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