ELIZABETH — This city’s public school district has agreed to settle sexual harassment lawsuits by seven female employees for $1.79 million.

Last month's settlement of the three separate lawsuits filed in 2015 and 2017 was first reported this week by NJ.com.

The seven women all claimed that the former principal of School 27 repeatedly sexually harassed them. They said that the district did little to stop the abuse because he was friendly with members of the Board of Education and was being groomed to run for political office in the city.

Following an investigation by the school board, the district created a new position for Carlos Lucio instead of firing him. Lucio resigned in 2015 and went to work for a school in California.

The sexual harassment complaints came after Lucio was tied to the district’s free-and-reduced lunch scandal. Lucio’s ex-wife was among three district officials arrested in 2011 on charges of misrepresenting their incomes on the lunch applications for their children. Lucio also was suspended in 2014 after he was accused of hitting a student, one of the lawsuits said.

One of the plaintiffs was a secretary at the school, who said in her lawsuit that she witnessed Lucio spend 20-to-40-minute sessions every day with women staffers in his closed office. The secretary said she believed he was having sexual relations because he and the other women would emerge disheveled and he would then spray his office with cologne or air freshener.

The secretary said he often stared at her, pressed his crotch against her, rubbed her legs and changed his clothes in front of her.

She said he retaliated against the daughter of a PTA mother who had rebuffed his advances by selectively enforcing the dress code against her. The secretary said that when she tried to stick up for the student, he yelled at her so much that she had a panic attack and had to take a medical leave of absence.

The front-office worker also bolstered claims by six female educators who said that Lucio retaliated against women who did not fall for his advances.

Although all seven women filed their lawsuits in Superior Court using their full names, New Jersey 101.5 has agreed not to use their names because of the sensitive nature of the allegations.

In a lawsuit filed jointly by four teachers and a substitute, the five women said Lucio began his harassing behavior by complimenting their appearance and then repeatedly asking them out on dates. In some cases, he got physical.

One teacher said Lucio often stared at her, complimented her appearance and pressed her for dates. She asked to be transferred to another school in 2015.

A special education teacher said Lucio began the 2011 school year by repeatedly sending her text messages asking her out and asking to come to her apartment. She said he attempted to kiss her when she went out with him to a restaurant in 2012. The lawsuit said he asked her for a hug and kiss in front of her students and that he retaliated by not giving her a good work assignment after she ignored his phone calls. In 2015, she said, he pressed his crotch against her back when he gave her a massage in school.

Another teacher said that in 2009 Lucio began sending her texts complimenting her looks and asking her out for drinks. He often texted her inappropriate sexual jokes.

Yet another teacher said Lucio often complimented her appearance in person and on the phone and repeatedly asked her out for drinks. In one instance, she said he looked at her through the window of her class in “a creepy way.” Her lawsuit said he retaliated by not giving her an after-school work assignment.

That teacher's sister, who began her career as a substitute at the school, said Lucio repeatedly complimented her looks and asked her out. She said he visited her during breaks and stared at her. He once brought her coffee and a heart-shaped doughnut. On two occasions – once in a school stairwell and another in his office – he attempted to kiss her.

Another special education teacher sued the district in a separate lawsuit.

Defense attorneys said the employees waited years to report the allegations despite being aware of the district’s sexual harassment policy. Attorneys for the district also argued that the teacher who went to a restaurant with Lucio flirted with him, texting him photos of her wearing a bikini and flirtatious late-night messages, “reflecting that [the teacher] was a willing participant and considered Lucio’s comments to be flirtatious.”

The secretary's complaint says district officials were aware of the harassment as early as 2010 but Acting Director of Human Resources Melissa Leite tipped off Lucio, who was her husband.

The secretary said Lucio begged her not to incriminate him to district investigators and tried to make her feel guilty by saying that his wife was pregnant and that he had confessed all his sins to a priest.

She said that he tried to coerce other victims to not talk to district investigators and had one of his paramours, a school security guard, use school surveillance cameras to take pictures of employees who were called down to speak to investigators.

The secretary said the investigation “was a sham, in part because it intentionally did not attempt to speak to all victims of Lucio’s discriminating and harassing conduct.”

A lawyer for the district told NJ.com that the settlement amount was being covered by the district’s insurance.

The women were represented by the Westfield firm of Schiller McMahon.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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