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HomeLocal NewsEx-Assistant Principal of Parsippany High School Alleges Discrimination and Retaliation

Ex-Assistant Principal of Parsippany High School Alleges Discrimination and Retaliation

Spencer also filed a lawsuit against the Dover Board of Education claiming "emotional distress and personal hardship, treble damages"

PARSIPPANY — Celena Spencer, a previous assistant principal at Parsippany High School, has filed a lawsuit against the district, claiming discrimination and retaliation stemming from reporting particular incidents at the school. Spencer served as assistant principal for the 2021-22 academic year. Towards its conclusion, she was informed that her contract would not be extended, a decision she found contradictory to the positive feedback she had previously received from ex-Principal Keith Bush and former Superintendent Barbara Sargent.

In the court documents, Celena Spencer repeatedly highlights the racial identities of certain school district personnel, emphasizing that Keith Bush, Nicolas DeBlasio, Michael DiBernard, and Denis Mulroony are all white males, while Dr. Barbara Sargent is identified as a white female.

The lawsuit traces back to December 2021, when Spencer was approached by a teacher disturbed by certain “Native American iconography” in the school. Spencer relayed the teacher’s concerns to Bush and, following his directive, advised the teacher responsible for the display to remove it. However, this decision was met with resistance and subsequently led to public outcry on social media platforms, like Facebook. Some posts insinuated Spencer was behind the removal decision due to her outsider status.

Around the same period, Black students confided in Spencer, recounting episodes of racial discrimination they encountered, specifically from white peers using racial slurs. Despite reporting this, the students felt the issue remained unaddressed. Spencer proposed the idea of a Black Student Union to Bush to better address such issues. Although Bush promised support, the students hesitated, feeling uncomfortable about openly discussing the matter.

Another event Spencer reported involved a confrontation between Bush and a Black student with special needs. According to the lawsuit, the student felt threatened by Bush’s demeanor and looked to Spencer for assistance, which Bush dismissed.

Following these events, Spencer noticed a shift in Bush’s behavior towards her. His previously positive feedback became sparse, culminating in the non-renewal of her contract in May 2022. The stated reasons for this decision were said to be Spencer’s inadequate communication with Vicky Santana, the English second language supervisor, and an incident from September 2021 involving a student-made video.

However, Spencer counters these claims, noting that Santana had never criticized their level of communication. Further, she asserts that her handling of the video incident never attracted any reprimand. The lawsuit also highlights that while she was scheduled for three performance observations during the year, only one was conducted after she was informed of her contract’s non-renewal.

Representatives from the Parsippany-Troy Hills Township School District have not commented on the lawsuit, and neither has Spencer’s lawyer, Drake Bearden Jr.

In 2021, before her employment with the Parsippany-Troy Hills School District, Spencer had also filed a lawsuit against the Dover Board of Education, alleging racial discrimination in salary negotiations. In discussions with Dover School’s Superintendent, Dr. James McLaughlin, Spencer aimed for a Supervisor position at a salary of $100,000. The offer made by Dr. McLaughlin was initially lower, but Spencer was eventually offered $93,000. He justified this by mentioning it was “comparable” to other Supervisors’ salaries in the district.

Upon reviewing the salaries, Spencer noted that amongst the seven Supervisors at the Dover Board of Education, she was the sole Black Supervisor and was paid significantly less than her counterparts. Her lawsuit specifies that her earnings were $13,000 less than the lowest-paid Supervisor and a staggering $33,000 less than the highest-paid one.

Filed at the Morris County Superior Court, the lawsuit explicitly claims racial discrimination in compensation, stating that Spencer was paid significantly less compared to her “White” peers holding similar positions. Through the lawsuit, Spencer seeks various forms of compensation, including compensatory damages, treble damages as per New Jersey statutes, punitive damages, back and front pay, and more. She also demands equitable remedies like reinstatement or potential promotion.

The same attorney, Drake Nearden, Jr. Esq., represents Spencer in both the Dover Board of Education and Parsippany High School lawsuits. As of now, official comments and the outcome of the Dover lawsuit are yet to be released by Mr. Nearden.

Spencer’s LinkedIn profile indicates her current employment as a teacher with the Linden Board of Education.

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Frank L. Cahill
Frank L. Cahill
Publisher of Parsippany Focus since 1989 and Morris Focus since 2019, both covering a wide range of events. Mr. Cahill serves as the Executive Board Member of the Parsippany Area Chamber of Commerce, President of Kiwanis Club of Tri-Town and Chairman of Parsippany-Troy Hills Economic Development Advisory Board.
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