By John Burton
LITTLE SILVER – Borough Superintendent of Schools Carolyn Kossack said she expects “to be exonerated of the allegations” made against her in a sexual harassment lawsuit, filed by a former female district employee.
The lawsuit, that names Kossack, a former principal and school board members, alleges the employee was fired for rejecting the superintendent’s sexual advances.
The case, which until Sept. 25 is in discovery, a pre-trial procedure during which those involved collect and exchange information, has been assigned to Superior Court Judge Jamie S. Perri, sitting in Freehold. No trial date has been set.
In a voicemail left at The Two River Times in response to a telephone call seeking comment, Kossack said, “I can’t comment on individual personnel matters, nor pending litigation. I do, however, expect to be exonerated of the allegations.
“And, generally speaking,” she added, “all of my employee recommendations are based on an individual’s performance and what’s in the best interest of the district and the students.”
In the suit filed in Superior Court in Freehold on Feb. 14, 2013, and then subsequently amended, plaintiff JoAnn Riley said she worked as the district’s supervisor of special services from Aug. 1, 2012 until her employment was terminated on Nov. 27, 2012, with an effective date of Jan. 31, 2013.
Riley’s suit alleges that shortly after starting to work for the district, Kossack “engaged in frequent texting with Ms. Riley, most of which were inappropriate, personal and sexual in nature.”
According to the suit, filed by Newark attorney Eric S. Pennington on Riley’s behalf, Kossack is alleged to have offered details of former female lovers in those texts, acknowledged she was flirting with Riley and that she considered Riley “beautiful” and intimated they could be friends. In one message she is alleged to have invited Riley to accompany her to the beach.
“In one of her texts, Dr. Kossack came out to JoAnn Riley as being ‘gay’ and joked about converting JoAnn into a lesbian,” the civil complaint contends.
Kossack “regularly and persistently attempted to engage in personal and inappropriate discussion with Ms. Riley,” with the plaintiff acknowledging she “engaged in these conversations hoping that they were harmless and would abate over time,” according to the suit.
But as Riley continued to rebuff her supervisor’s alleged advances, “their interactions became increasingly strained and Dr. Kossack became hostile and threatening,” according to the complaint.
In November 2012, Riley said she met with Kossack and Dennis Morolda, who at the time was the district’s Markham Place School principal, and served as Riley’s union representative for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisor Association. During that session Kossack fired Riley. Before the meeting, Riley said she told Morolda about the texts, according to the suit.
Kossack “did not employ the usual and customary process to address perceived deficiencies,” the complaint charges.
The suit also names five members of the Little Silver Board of Education who went on to vote to support Kossack’s recommendation to fire Riley; and in an amendment to the suit filed on Aug. 30, 2013, listed Morolda as a defendant, alleging that as Riley’s union representative, he violated that “position of trust” by failing to function in good faith during the November meeting.
Riley also maintains her dismissal has resulted in her inability in finding other education employment.
Calls to lawyers representing the parties were either not returned or resulted in staff for the lawyers declining comment.
In a court filing, submitted by Bruce E. Helies, whose firm, Wolff, Helies, Duggan, Spaeth and Lucas in Manasquan represents Kossack, it is asserted that Riley’s suit is “frivolous” and “defendants assert the plaintiff’s termination was as a direct and proximate result of her own employment and performance deficiencies during the period of time plaintiff was employed by defendants.”
Riley, who is alleging she was “unlawfully discriminated against, and has been subjected to unlawful retaliation and reprisals by defendants,” is seeking judgments and equitable, compensatory and punitive damages, according to the suit.