A public dispute between Evesham Township's mayor and school district officials over misconduct accusations against a school aide took an even more lurid turn late last week.
The Evesham School District's personnel director, Richard Dantinne Jr., filed a lawsuit against Mayor Randy Brown, alleging that Brown defamed him last week when he told a news conference that Dantinne had allegedly sexually harassed at least one female teacher in the district.
Filed Friday in Superior Court in Burlington County, the six-page complaint asserts that Brown's "character assassination" against Dantinne was part of a personal vendetta against district Superintendent John Scavelli for not hiring Brown's son Tyler for a job within the district.
"He is purely and simply seeking to get revenge against the superintendent," Dantinne's lawyer, Matthew S. Wolf of Cherry Hill, alleges in the complaint. It further contends that Brown was incensed that Scavelli had hired an African American instead of his son, and once used a racial epithet to describe the man in a conversation with Scavelli.
"All of defendant Brown's conduct ... was motivated by actual malice, willful misconduct and racial animus," according to the suit, which asserts that the mayor is using Dantinne as a "pawn in a dispute that he has personally" with Scavelli, and has damaged his client's reputation.
The suit indicates that Dantinne, 50, will seek unspecified compensatory damages from Brown because his "willful and malicious" remarks have subjected Dantinne to "hatred, contempt and ridicule" that could jeopardize his future employment.
In December, Dantinne submitted his resignation to the Evesham district, effective next Tuesday, to take a similar job with the Gloucester Township School District.
Brown said Monday that on the advice of his lawyer, he could not comment on the suit, which he said he had not seen, but that it appeared to contain "maliciously false statements." He declined to say whether his son, now 25, had ever sought employment in the K-8 district.
Brown's wife, Trisha, is a longtime middle school teacher of special education in the Evesham schools. His mother was also a teacher in the district.
Scavelli and Dantinne did not return requests for comment. Wolf said he could not comment.
On Jan. 12, Brown, who is serving his 10th year as mayor, held a news conference at Evesham's municipal building. Accompanied by three members of the school board, he told reporters he had heard rumors in December that several young female teachers had complained to colleagues that Dantinne had harassed them sexually about two years earlier.
Brown went on to say that in early January he had a conversation with a young teacher who he said described alleged harassment by Dantinne. Asked whether Dantinne's actions "crossed the line," Brown replied, "Without question."
Brown said he called the news conference because he had been unable to learn from Scavelli whether the superintendent had received complaints from the women and had investigated the allegations. The school board members, who included Vice President Sandy Student, said the board was never told of any complaints about Dantinne.
Student said he had repeatedly asked Scavelli whether he had received harassment complaints against Dantinne, but received only responses that the district takes such matters seriously and investigates them vigorously.
They all said they were speaking out because of concerns about a possible cover-up.
In an email, Scavelli said last week that the district investigates sexual harassment accusations vigorously and that he has fired employees found to have engaged in wrongful conduct. He said the law bars him from sharing certain personnel matters with the school board.