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Former Student Sues Rutgers Prep School, Former Coaches & Teachers

By Barbara A. Preston | Posted February 2, 2023

Laffey, Bucci & Kent, a personal injury firm based in Philadelphia, filed a lawsuit on January 24 against Rutgers Preparatory School, the school’s former teachers and assistant coaches Matthew J. Rennie and Ranait Griff, and others in connection with the sexual abuse of a former student, who was then a minor.

Rutgers Prep campus in Franklin Township.

The firm represents the female victim, “Mary Doe,” who was enrolled at the private school from 2018 to 2021. The complaint, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division, Somerset County, alleges that Rutgers Prep and all defendants negligently failed to protect the minor student, and knew, or should have known, of Rennie’s unlawful, harmful, and offensive sexual conduct with the minor and did nothing to stop it. “Doe” was a 17-year-old Rutgers Prep student when she reported to Franklin Township police on October 6, 2021 that she was sexually assaulted by then 30-year-old teacher/coach Matthew J. Rennie.

Matthew J. Rennie

The victim said the alleged incidents occurred in Montgomery Township and in East Amwell Township from July 2021 to September 2021. Rennie, a volleyball coach at Rutgers Prep, lived on Rileyville Road in Ringoes (East Amwell Township) at the time, according to the police report. Detectives from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and the Montgomery Township Police Department arrested Rennie on October 6, 2021 at the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office without incident.

Police charged Rennie with 2nd degree sexual assault and 3rd degree endangering the welfare of a child. Rennie is lodged in the Somerset County Jail. Mary Doe’s lawyer told The Montgomery News during a telephone conversion that Rennie pled guilty to the charges. Police also had arrested Ranait Griff, 30, a female teacher/coach at the same school, who was allegedly aware of the sexual relationship.

Ranait Griff

Detectives from the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Sex Crimes/Child Abuse Unit and the Franklin Township Police Department arrested Griff, without incident. Police charged Griff, who lived in Brooklyn, NY, with endangering the welfare of a child because authorities said she had knowledge of the assault and did not report it. She was lodged in the Somerset County Jail, and her case is still pending.

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The NJSIAA website showed that Rennie coached girls volleyball and Griff coached girls lacrosse at the school. Rutgers Prep Spokesperson Susan Gantz responded to a Monty News phone call: “We are aware that a lawsuit has been filed in response to the actions of two former employees, however we are not able to speak to the details of the matter at this time. We can share that an independent evaluation last year found that Rutgers Prep has in place extensive personnel policies to protect students from inappropriate behavior and to provide a means by which such complaints can be reported.” “The policies and procedures we have in place were confirmed by the assessment to be comprehensive and are directed at providing a safe and supportive learning environment for students.”

The Lawsuit

Attorney Brian Kent, representing the student, told The Montgomery News during a telephone conversation that his client has two primary objectives. “She wants transparency and accountability,” he says. “And, first and foremost, she doesn’t want this to happen again.” He did not comment on monetary damages.

In the legal complaint, Kent writes that, “Matthew Rennie had access to countless children during his tenure working as a teacher and assistant coach.” “Rutgers Prep was aware of the inappropriate relationships fostered at the school, including between Rennie and our client, and allowed a toxic culture to bloom between students, teachers, and coaches by failing to supervise its staff or respond to student complaints.” “To add insult to Mary Doe’s injury, Coach Griff knew of Rennie’s conduct, and actively encouraged Mary Doe to engage in physical, sexual activity with Rennie.” “The defendants’ collective failure to act to protect Mary Doe and other students at Rutgers Prep is grossly negligent.”

The complaint alleges that the defendants caused the victim to experience extreme emotional distress, loss of earnings, services, companionship, and contribution. It further alleges violations of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Breach of Contract, Assault & Battery, and Failure to Rescue. “We encourage anyone who may have experienced inappropriate conduct or sexual abuse by Rennie or Griff, or sexual abuse by any other employee of Rutgers Prep to come forward,” said Kent. “The school must be held accountable for its negligence and the harm it has caused Mary Doe and anyone else who may have been harmed.”

According to the complaint, Mary Doe was recruited to attend Rutgers Prep due to her athletic abilities, and she began her freshman year in 2018. In 2019, she allegedly confided to Rennie about the emotional abuse she received from other Rutgers Prep coaches. As a graduate of Rutgers Prep himself, “Rennie was familiar with Rutgers Prep’s history of fostering a negative environment for female athletes,” according to the complaint. “This began a period of grooming via text messages between Rennie and Mary Doe.” “Rutgers Prep administrators knew students communicated with coaches via cell phone and did nothing to stop the practice.

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Rennie began to eat lunch daily with Mary Doe, and by 2020, he was having daily conversations and text messages with her. As he continued to groom her, Mary Doe began to describe Rennie as her ‘best friend,’” according to the complaint. “By March 8, 2021, Griff was aware of the conduct between Rennie and Mary Doe after hearing Rennie say that he loved the minor-student and read text messages exchanged between the two,” according to the complaint. “Griff asked Mary Doe how she felt about the situation and discussed it with her, telling Mary Doe she thought she and Rennie were “seriously adorable” and “when do you think it’s going to start being physical?” “Instead of reporting Rennie’s abuse as she was required to, Griff asked Mary Doe if she could handle being physical with Rennie and actively encouraged the abuse,” according to the legal document.

The complaint further alleges that in 2020-2021, during COVID, when most students were learning from home every other week, Mary Doe was allowed to come to school every day, and she spent much of that time alone with Rennie. During this time and on other occasions throughout 2021, teachers, staff and custodians observed inappropriate conduct and behavior between Mary Doe and Rennie and did not report, question, or raise any alarm. The law firm set up a hotline at 855.382.3385 for other students who may have experience sexual abuse.


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