June 21, 2024
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Linden Mayor and School Officials Sued Over Alleged Antisemitism

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead apologized for making antisemitic remarks apparently aimed at keeping religious Jews from being hired in the school district.

The apology came in response to a May 23 suit filed by Paul Oliveira, a former assistant superintendent in Linden, against the mayor, Superintendent of Schools Atiya Perkins and Board of Education President Marlene Berghammer, among others, charging they schemed against Jews.

The lawsuit claims that Berghammer instructed Oliveira “to only consider potential candidates who are African American and/or of Haitian descent” in conversations that were caught on tape.

“That is what has to happen in order to keep our community from being taken over by guys with big hats and curls,” Oliveira claimed that Armstead said during a January 22 meeting, along with several other antisemitic remarks.

Oliveria said he was forced to take medical leave because of his allegations and eventually resigned April 14. The suit charges his treatment was a violation of the state’s Discrimination and Conscientious Employee Protection Act.

In a released statement, Armstead said, “The mayor apologizes for comments referencing Hasidic Jews as ‘guys in big hats and curls,’ and remains staunchly committed to diversity and inclusivity in the community.”

The suit alleges that Oliveria questioned the “illegal directives.” Two days after the January meeting, it states that Perkins “suddenly began critiquing plaintiff’s work performance via emails and formal memoranda.”

The lawsuit said that Oliveria found himself caught up in a “unlawful, unethical and discriminatory hiring scheme and that the hiring requests were “specifically designed to (1) marginalize individuals of one race/nationality (i.e., Jewish individuals) at the expense of other candidates who were not Jewish and (2) allow defendants to ‘cherry pick’ which specific candidates they want hired in the Linden School District, based on unlawful criteria.”

Armstead questioned “the timing and motivations” behind the leak and lawsuit, given that he is running as a candidate in a crowded field on July 16 to fill the remainder of the term of Rep. Donald Payne, who died April 24.

The charges outlined in the suit were condemned by Shlomo Schorr, director of legislative affairs of New Jersey Agudath Israel.

“Like all people of good conscience, I was appalled at the recent antisemitic comments made by Linden Mayor Derek Armstead,” he said. “The growth of the Jewish community in Linden and surrounding areas should be celebrated and encouraged, not disparaged behind closed doors. Describing the Chasidic community by their choice of headdress and hairstyles is offensive, but most concerning was his apparent desire to discriminate against the Orthodox community in hiring decisions.”

He added that Armstead had sworn to “impartially and justly perform all the duties of the office” and is responsible for all city residents.

“The community has a right to know if the discriminatory policy he suggested was ever implemented in the school district or other local government entities,” said Schorr. “At a time when antisemitism in New Jersey is at a record high, civic leaders carry the responsibility to counter hate and antisemitism, not engage in it.”

*Faygie Holt contributed to this article.


Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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