In Brief

Sexual abuse is a form of discrimination, New Jersey Supreme Court rules

By: - September 12, 2023 3:50 pm

The family of a Camden County preschool girl molested by a school bus aide in 2009 and 2010 filed a discrimination lawsuit against the school district and bus company. The New Jersey Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings and agreed with the family that the abuse constituted discrimination. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

Editor’s note: This report contains descriptions of child sexual abuse. 

A sexual predator’s assaults of young schoolgirls in Camden County violated the state’s anti-discrimination law because he targeted his victims because of their gender, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The court unanimously reversed the dismissal a trial judge ordered — and an appellate court upheld — of the discrimination claims one student’s family made in a 2014 lawsuit against the Waterford Township Board of Education.

The student, identified only as C.V. in court documents, was a preschooler in December 2009, when Alfred Dean, who was then a 76-year-old school bus aide, began molesting her on the bus, according to the ruling. The abuse went on for five months until her parents found out and alerted authorities.

Dean eventually admitted he sexually abused C.V. and at least four other children, and the bus’s driver told investigators Dean would regularly cover the bus’s video camera and then interact inappropriately with girls on the bus, according to the ruling.

Dean pled guilty to first-degree aggravated sexual assault, was determined to be a “repetitive and compulsive” sex offender, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released in October 2018, state corrections records show.

The family sued the bus company and school district, which today serves nearly 900 students in preschool to sixth grade, for negligence and discrimination.

The district fought the discrimination claims, saying Dean’s conduct was fueled by pedophilia and not gender discrimination because he molested boys, too. His abuse, then, was not gender-based and so not subject to the anti-discrimination law, the district’s lawyers argued.

Justice Rachel Wainer Apter, who penned the decision, rejected that defense.

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, enacted in 1945, does not require any showing of intent, Wainer Apter noted.

It prohibits discrimination because of sex and other protected characteristics, and “sexual touching of a person’s genitals or other sex-specific anatomy is inescapably ‘because of’ that person’s sex,” she wrote.

C.V.’s family sought to add age discrimination to their lawsuit, but Wainer Apter did not allow it.

While the law prohibits age discrimination in employment, it does not bar it in places of public accommodation, including schools or buses, she noted.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.