EDISON — A former township elementary school principal says he was fired because he is gay, and blames a Board of Education member for being the driving force behind his ouster even though the schools superintendent recommended that he keep his job.

Timothy Hart filed a lawsuit in Middlesex County Superior Court in June arguing that he was fired not for his job performance, but because he is an "openly gay man."

He had been hired as the principal of the Lincoln Elementary School where he "made a lasting impact and gained the respect and esteem of the District administration, teachers, parents and students," his lawsuit says.

Hart's lawsuit says that he was hired as the school's principal in August 2015, and that by the start of 2016 board member Theresa Ward, who was named in the lawsuit as a defendant, "initiated efforts to terminate Plaintiff's employment with the District due to his sexual orientation."

Ward wrote a letter to the district administration making her case for Hart's contract not to be renewed. In the letter, which was provided to New Jersey 101.5 by Hart's lawyer, Ward called Hart "a brazen hussy."

"He is a very strange person and should be removed before he does something really weird," she says in the letter. "Anyone with TH's proclivities doesn't belong in education. That is neither here nor there; however, he doesn't belong in Edison Township and certainly not in one of our elementary schools."

The letter does not explain what she means by "proclivities," and the lawsuit does not mention any specific example of Hart's sexuality being discussed by school officials. The only slur identified in the lawsuit was "hussy," which is usually used to describe women of loose morals.

Ward listed other issues she had with Hart, including his management style and his attire. In the letter she said staff at the school were "not free to conduct themselves as professionals and can in no way earn the esteem they once held and which should continue to be held by the principal and supervisors of the staff."

In the letter, Ward described Hart's dress as "one who is going to the barnyard to feed the chickens."

"His slovenly appearance shows disrespect for the position of principal and the community he serves and ignorance of how he should present himself," her letter says. "Does he think he is a law unto himself and the rudiments of appropriate attire don't apply to him here as he does in other areas?"

The lawsuit says Ward's letter means he "need not speculate as to why he was terminated."

"Calling Plaintiff a derogatory slur is bigotry, and suggesting Plaintiff, because of his sexual orientation, might harm children is shameful," the lawsuit says. "Worse, Defendant Ward penned such words without shame or remorse and somehow remains in her position on the Board."

He said Ward initiated a "witch hunt" against him, including showing up at the school unannounced and interviewing teachers about his performance. Ward also talked to teachers and parents about their opinions of his work, and "spoke publicly and negatively" about his performance.

Hart's lawsuit says he was up for a contract renewal at the board's meeting on May 3. He said despite Superintendent Richard O'Malley recommending he be retained, the board opted not to renew his contract. According to the lawsuit, his contract was not renewed and that the board "failed to engage in any discussion, either in public session or executive session," about his performance, and did not provide "any other legitimate justification for Plaintiff's non-renewal."

Hart currently serves as the principal of the Collins Elementary School in Livingston. Edison Board of Education President Frank Heelan said in an email to New Jersey 101.5 that "litigation on a lawsuit precludes us from making any comment." An email sent to Ward seeking comment was not returned.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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