Richard Caldes (Photo: Daniel Nee)
Richard Caldes (Photo: Daniel Nee)

A lawsuit filed by a former vice principal at Brick Memorial High School alleges former interim schools superintendent Richard Caldes denied her tenure as retaliation for her refusal to change his son’s grade.

The complaint, filed in Ocean County Superior Court in January by Brenda Coyle, the former administrator, states that Caldes contacted her on Jan. 4, 2016, four months before he became interim superintendent, to request Coyle log into Apex, an online course program, and change his son’s grade. According to the lawsuit, Caldes told Coyle his son “did not have a high enough score to progress through the program.”

Coyle refused, stating in court papers that it would have been illegal for her to access the Apex account needed to change the grade because the student’s teachers had not authorized her to do so.

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Caldes became interim superintendent after the arrest of superintendent Walter Uszenski on criminal charges in May 2015. Before that, he had the role of Educational Specialist, an administrative title. According to Coyle’s complaint, three business days after Caldes became interim superintendent, he reversed a decision made by Uszenski to grant Coyle tenure, effectively non-renewing her contract and terminating her employment.

Coyle states in the lawsuit that her non-tenure was retaliation over her refusal to change the grade. Caldes, she alleges, told her the reason for his decision was based on “evaluations and observations,” but Coyle claims both her evaluations and observations were “uniformly positive.”

[box type=”shadow” align=”” class=”” width=””]READ A PORTION OF THE COMPLAINT

Case information and count one. (PDF)[/box]

Caldes, a Point Pleasant Borough resident, did not respond to a request for comment by Shorebeat. It is unclear under what circumstances his son was attending the Brick school district.

Coyle also alleges she was not provided with a Rice notice – a document notifying a public employee that their employment will be discussed at a meeting – and was denied a Donaldson hearing, which is an opportunity for a non-renewed employee to appear before the Board of Education to make a case that she should be granted tenure.

“She’s devastated,” Alan H. Schorr, Coyle’s attorney, told Shorebeat. “She loved the job. It was not just her livelihood, it was her life.”

A list of Brick Memorial High School administrators which appeared on the 2015-16 school budget. (Source: Brick Twp. Schools)
A list of Brick Memorial High School administrators which appeared on the 2015-16 school budget. (Source: Brick Twp. Schools)

Coyle, records show, was hired as a high school science teacher in 2012. She was later promoted to vice principal and was completing her third year of service with the district, meaning she either had to be granted tenure or let go. According to the 2015-16 school year budget, Coyle’s employment was listed to be funded. The only instance where an assistant principal position was to be eliminated was at Lake Riviera Middle School.

The lawsuit names the school district, the Board of Education and Caldes as defendants. It seeks unspecified damages for loss of reputation, back pay, front pay, reinstatement, emotional distress, plus punitive damages and attorneys fees.

Coyle, a Brick resident, is now “persona non grata” with the school district and has been unable to find another job, Schorr said.

“Not only has she lost her job, but she’s alienated in her own town,” he added.

The suit is characterized as a whistleblower action, attorney Adam Schorr said, since Coyle allegedly “refused to participate in an unlawful act.”

Schorr said the school district, in an initial answer to the complaint, claimed they acted in good faith in the non-renewal of Coyle’s contract and denied the allegations made against Caldes.

If the case is to proceed to trial, it would likely occur sometime in 2018, Schorr said. The discovery period in the case does not end until May 2017.

Caldes is no longer serving as interim superintendent. He returned to the position of Educational Specialist after the Board of Education hired former Jackson superintendent Thomas Gialanella to fill the interim role.