A superintendent of schools has filed suit against the all-male board of education in Ridgefield Park, claiming they suspended her because of her sex and replaced her with a man.
Angela Bender, 59, is the first woman awarded a full employment contract for that position in the district and has been “met with hostility and discrimination” by men on the board ever since, alleges the suit, filed July 6 in Superior Court of Bergen County.
“An unwritten but widely recognized reality in Ridgefield Park Schools is that its administration is run by a ‘boys club,’ sometimes referred to as ‘the million-dollar wall,’ which is a stifling barrier to women like a ‘glass ceiling,’” the suit states.
The board of education on June 23 delivered a vote of “no confidence” against Bender and replaced her with “a less qualified man,” the lawsuit claims.
Bender was suspended with pay and told her contract would not be renewed when it expires on June 30, 2023, the suit states.
“The board’s purported basis for ‘no confidence’ was never disclosed to Dr. Bender, who was improperly ejected from the board’s executive session (when) that basis may have been discussed,” the suit states.
Bender traces the animus back to 2018 when, as an elementary school principal in the district, she complained to the board that her pay was discriminatory and violated New Jersey’s Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act.
The suit states board members offered Bender the superintendent job “in exchange for her dropping the unequal pay issue, which she accepted in good faith.”
Since taking the position, Bender claims she has suffered adverse employment actions at the hands of a “misogynistic majority,” that treated her “less favorably because of her sex.”
The 36-page complaint names both the Ridgefield Park and Little Ferry school boards for their “evil-minded abuse.” Little Ferry is represented on the school board because some of its residents attend Ridgefield Park schools.
In addition to sex discrimination, Bender alleges a hostile work environment and violations of the state’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
She is seeking a jury trial and any lost wages, along with damages for emotional distress and money to compensate for negative tax consequences.
Attorneys for the district on Tuesday released this statement to NJ Advance Media:
The Ridgefield Park Board of Education is aware of a recent lawsuit filed by Angela Bender. The board denies the allegations and wishes to remind the public that the complaint only provides unproven accusations. The board is looking forward to presenting the facts and its defense in court. The board has an obligation to make decisions that ensure the educational welfare and needs of its students. As Dr. Bender is aware, recently she was placed on leave due to the board’s concerns regarding her ability to carry out her job responsibilities and effectively lead the District. However, the board is unable to comment further at this time, as this is an ongoing personnel matter.
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Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find NJ.com on Facebook.