Education and Employment Law Attorney Anna María Tejada Discusses Lawsuit Over Princeton’s Actions Against Suicidal Student

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Anna María Tejada
Professional Overview

According to an article featured in the New Jersey Law Journal, "Suit Over Princeton's Actions Against Suicidal Student Raises Tough Issues," Princeton University is defending a lawsuit that was filed in March 2014 in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey. A student named W.P. claims he was expelled from the university after taking an overdose of antidepressant pills in February 2012. His claim - Princeton failed to accommodate his disability following his overdose. The student is asserting the university held him to a higher standard than other individuals when he reapplied and planned on returning to campus a year later.

W.P. v. Princeton University has raised questions under state and federal laws against disability discrimination. The case has also stirred debate in legal circles and at Princeton regarding colleges' appropriate response to certain students conduct. Case law is vague on whether expelling a student or making it hard for them to return to college constitutes a failure to accommodate disability. It also raises questions whether the college is acting accordingly to protect the student body. Anna Maria Tejada, a Partner at Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, LLP, in New Jersey said, "This case will be interesting and will certainly affect just how universities begin to strike a balance between addressing the issue of whether a student presents a harm to themselves or others, and providing accommodations to those students with disabilities under federal law." Tejada continued to say that while making sure students do not hurt themselves is a consideration of the university's analysis following a student's attempted suicide, universities must also assess the potential liability of keeping that student on campus or advising the student to obtain professional help outside of the university's premises if the university is unable to meet that student's needs.

Ms. Tejada serves as the Director of the New Jersey Labor and Employment Group within her firm. She concentrates her practice in labor and employment law, employment practice liability, professional liability and education law and represents employers, attorneys, school boards, parents and municipalities in both state and federal courts, as well as in administrative proceedings before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Administrative Law, and the Division on Civil Rights.

Prior to joining Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, Ms. Tejada practiced with Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer P.A., a large firm in New Jersey, and served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow for the Education Law Center, where she assisted in enforcement proceedings of the landmark decisions of Abbott v. Burke. She also interned in law school for the Honorable John W. Bissell, United States District of New Jersey, and served as an Appellate Clerk for the Honorable John E. Wallace, Jr. (now retired from the Supreme Court of New Jersey).

Community service is important for Ms. Tejada.

Ms. Tejada is the President of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey and served as Past Regional President of Region III of the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA, 2011-2012). Ms. Tejada also served as a Latina Commissioner for the HNBA Commission on the Status of Latinas in the Legal Profession and participated in the HNBA Executive Leadership Program for Latina Attorneys. Ms. Tejada is a Board Member for the Northern Jersey Boy Scouts Council and is the Committee Chair for the Scoutreach Initiative Program, which focuses on taking scouting to the inner cities, particularly to Passaic, Newark, Jersey City, Union City, and Paterson. This program is instrumental in providing young boys with the opportunity to explore nature, develop key relationships with their peers, and instill in them the essence of good character. Providing opportunities for involvement in the community which offer mentorship for young boys is key to the success of our youth. As a result of her volunteer efforts, on June 24, 2014, the Northern Jersey Boy Scouts Council presented her with the Good Scout Award. In addition, Ms. Tejada serves as a Board Member of Latinas United for Political Empowerment Political Action Committee ("LUPE PAC"), an organization which strives to financially support Latinas running for public office, irrespective of their political affiliation.

Her professional accomplishments and volunteer service have led to several honors. Ms. Tejada is the recipient of the 2013 HNBA Top Lawyer Under Forty Award. In April 2012, Ms. Tejada earned the Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver Shirley Chisholm Award for Service in the Law. In August 2012, she was featured in the New Jersey Law Journal in an article for being honored as one of the "New Leaders of the Bar." Ms. Tejada was also an honoree at the 14th Annual Association of Latin American Law Students ("ALALS") Fiesta Con Sabor Scholarship Awards Dinner in February 2011 and received the ALALS Community Service Award on March 7, 2013.In March 2014, Ms. Tejada was awarded the Women of Achievement Award by the Tri-County Scholarship Fund, an organization that "raises money to provide financial support to deserving and economically disadvantaged children in Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties of New Jersey, so they can obtain a quality, values-centered education through accredited K-12 private elementary and secondary schools," according to its website. She is a member of the American Bar Association, the New Jersey State Bar Association, the New Jersey Association of School Board Attorneys, and the New Jersey Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Tejada consistently participates in mentoring programs for inner city children in her home town of Passaic and other locations in New Jersey. She has been admitted to the New Jersey and New York State Bar, the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ms. Tejada was born and raised in Passaic, New Jersey. She was an Education Opportunity Fund student at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where she earned her B.A. in Psychology. Ms. Tejada also minored in Puerto Rican, and Caribbean Studies, and Spanish and she obtained a criminology certificate. While studying at Rutgers University, she prepared a thesis on the "Suggestibility of Child Witnesses." Ms. Tejada was active in student organizations, which included serving as President of the Sociedad Estudiantil Dominicana. She is a proud Minority Student Program student and graduate of Rutgers School of Law-Newark, graduating at the age of 23 in 1999.

When asked about her hobbies and favorite sports team, Ms. Tejada said, "I love music and dancing. My artists are diverse from Juan Luis Guerra, Romeo Santos, Shakira, Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Alejandro Fernandez, and Mark Anthony. I enjoy dancing to salsa, bachata, merengue, hip-hop, and R&B. Growing up in a Dominican household, my family was very passionate about baseball. Hence, my favorite sport is baseball. My favorite team is the Yankees."

Does she have a favorite book? "My Beloved World" by Sonia Sotomayor. Associate Justice Sotomayor is an inspiration to many. As a Latina attorney, it was amazing to see history unfold before my eyes, as I was able to see the first Latina appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States by President Barack Obama. Associate Justice Sotomayor is an example of the American Dream, what we all strive to achieve here in the United States."

Ms. Tejada's Memories and Motivations

How long has Ms. Tejada been an attorney? "For 15 years."

Why did she decide to become an attorney? Ms. Tejada explained:
"Since I was a child, I wanted to be an attorney. Being raised in an inner city, I saw the impact of law on the lives of my loved ones and community. I was fortunate enough to be the daughter of a mother who had big dreams for her children. I was the daughter of an undocumented immigrant. Fortunately, due to the laws at the time, my mother was given the chance to become a permanent resident, rather than being deported. As such, my mother, my sisters, and I were provided the opportunity to live in this country. Because of this opportunity, I was able to become an attorney, the first in my family."
What is the best part of her job? "I enjoy the opportunity to counsel my clients on the best strategies and most efficient ways to handle a difficult situation in the workplace and how to pursue litigation in a manner that will not adversely affect their business."

What is Ms. Tejada known for professionally? "Employment law is my specialty. I also have extensive experience in education law, with a focus on special education law."

What area of the law is she most passionate about? I enjoy employment and labor practice, but I am passionate about Immigration and Education.

If Ms. Tejada were not a lawyer, what would she most probably be doing? "Not being a lawyer was never an option. I am sure I would be a lawyer. Hypothetically, my dream job would be General Manager of the New York Yankees."

Is Ms. Tejada involved with any non-profit organizations? She noted:
"I am the 34th President of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey, a statewide organization which strives to advocate and promote diversity in the legal profession and the judiciary. The HBA-NJ accomplishes its mission by instituting mentorship programs with law students in the three area schools (ie, Rutgers - Newark, Seton Hall Law School, and Rutgers - Camden). This year, we have instituted a pipeline program with Passaic High School, where members of the HBA-NJ mentor high school students on a monthly basis and educate them about the legal and judicial system. The students have attended programming throughout the year to network with attorneys and judges to expose them to the legal profession. We have been able to award over 30K in scholarships to Latino law students at our annual gala at MetLife stadium. The HBA-NJ provides continuing legal education seminars, networking events, and fundraising events for scholarships. We also have community events to give back to the community."
Prior to joining Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck, Ms. Tejada served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow for the Education Law Center. How was this experience? She stated:
"The experience was incredible. It allowed me the opportunity to understand how community leaders were fighting for the rights of students in the inner city, who are often forgotten by many. It was where I learned about the impact of the New Jersey constitution and the relevant laws on the education. It allowed me to see the power that legislation has on individual lives, especially of children, in a positive way. It was my way to give back to my community and the city where I was raised."
Ms. Tejada served as an Appellate Clerk for the Honorable John E. Wallace, Jr., and she interned in law school for the Honorable John W. Bissell. What did she learn from both judges? Ms. Tejada acknowledged:
"Both judges exhibited a respectful demeanor for the litigants and an acute knowledge for the law. For the first time with Judge Bissell, I experienced the court system - in particular the federal court. It was wonderful to learn from one of the most experienced judges on the bench at the time.

As for Justice Wallace, I had the privilege to begin my legal career as a judicial clerk when he served in the Appellate Division. Justice Wallace led by example as a person and as a judge. He exemplified what every Justice should be - a person who respects others and applies the law to the facts at hand. He is a mentor and wonderful human being. Justice Wallace, now retired, established a legacy of justice through his body of work, his character of excellence, and for understanding that family and community are the essence of a person. His effortless ability to mentor is a reminder that diversity is key to our judiciary system."
Final Thoughts

What motivates Ms. Tejada to be an attorney every day? "I enjoy the practice of law and being able to provide the best service to my clients. I am also inspired by my family."

How does she want to be remembered? "As a person who achieved her goals in life, but never forgot where she came from and always made 'giving back' a priority."

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