WATERFORD TWP. -- A judge has thrown out a case brought by three township teachers who sought to remove Superintendent Jason "Jay" Eitner from his job and revoke his certifications.
The teachers went to the Department of Education with their concerns last August, arguing that Eitner had harassed, bullied and discriminated against them due to their age.
The case was transferred to the state Office of Administrative Law, where a judge last week granted Eitner's motion to dismiss the case. The commissioner of education has 45 days to adopt, modify or reject the decision.
Eitner, who has been on paid leave since October, said Thursday that he is "extremely happy" with Judge Sarah Crowley's decision.
"I feel validated that the judge's decision reflects what I and those close to me have known throughout this process; the claims filed against me were unfounded and unfair," he said.
The teachers, Patricia Chiodi, Daniel Bittner and Deborah Borrelli, contest some of the statements in Crowley's decision and are vowing to appeal.
"This dismissal does not dispute the validity of our complaints but is rather procedural in nature," they said in joint statement Wednesday.
Eitner's attorney, Andrew W. Li, argued successfully that the teachers had not exhausted other administrative remedies before going to the state and that the state office had no jurisdiction over the matter.
Meanwhile, the Board of Education is expected to take action on Eitner's employment status at a special meeting Monday, a day before his period of paid leave is set to end.
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Eitner, of Mount Laurel, has said in the past that the complaints are the result of opposition from some teachers and members of the Waterford Township Board of Education to changes or his direct leadership style.
He also said some teachers opposed him and his changes when he worked previously at Lower Alloways Creek Township School for two years.
Chiodi, Bittner and Borrelli dispute that their complaints are about anything other than trying to stand up to a bully.
All three allege that Eitner discriminated against them due to their age and harassed them when they either resisted his attempts to reassign them or when they cooperated in Affirmative Action investigations into his behavior.
The board commissioned independent investigations into his conduct in 2016, but the results of those investigations have not been released, even to the teachers who filed the complaints.
The board voted Oct. 19 to place Eitner on paid, nonpunitive leave for 60 days. They later extended the leave twice, and it will end on Feb. 28.
While any grievances filed against Eitner are confidential, the complaints by Chiodi, Bittner and Borrelli are public because they were filed with the state.
Chiodi claims in her complaint that Eitner inappropriately found information in her personnel file and used it to spread false rumors about her.
Bittner said Eitner targeted him with nasty Tweets and endeavored to have him removed from two positions.
Borrelli felt that Eitner sexually harassed her by emailing her a blog post he wrote about school staff spreading rumors about teachers' sexual promiscuity. Eitner has said that anyone who subscribes to his blog will get posts emailed to them.
He refutes the ageism claims, but said he cannot respond to specific allegations because of the threat of litigation. The teachers have filed notice with the district of their intentions to sue for damages of over $100,000 each, though no suits have been filed yet.
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In his statement to NJ Advance Media Thursday, Eitner said that it is good news that the district will not have to pay to litigate the case that was dismissed Feb. 13.
"I am relieved to say that, with the case dismissed, the taxpayers of Waterford Township can rest assured that their hard-earned wages can now be redirected to where they should be -- the students," he said.Teachers dispute dismissal
The teachers argue that Judge Crowley erred in her interpretation of the law and also in her statement that they did not exhaust other remedies first.
Crowley wrote that the teachers' complaints did not specify which state law had been broken and so were not a matter for the state to decide.
Her decision stated that none of the teachers filed harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) complaints in their district, but the teachers dispute that. "All three teachers followed proper procedure and filed Affirmative Action/HIB complaints with the District," they said in a statement.
The teachers said they didn't appeal the investigations, as Crowley said they could have, because the district has refused to disclose the results.
"We exhausted every means possible within the District," they said, and then followed instructions from the Department of Education's Bureau of Controversies and Disputes to petition the state.
"They even told us that we were not required to utilize any District grievance procedures but rather had the right to bypass any district procedures and file directly with their office," they said, something that is spelled out in the state's Affirmative Action Officers Manual.
As for what happens next, Eitner said he was notified that the school will hold a special meeting Monday and he assumes it is about his employment status.
"I hope that the educational communities and public citizens who have followed this case will take the outcome as proof that I have simply been doing my job," Eitner said of the dismissal, "which is to move education forward in a way that benefits students and keeps me connected with others in the educational world. I look forward to continuing to do just that."
Rebecca Everett may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.
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