MIDDLETOWN — Former Assistant Superintendent Enza Macri has filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education and former Superintendent Michael Conner alleging that the Board of Education and district administration failed to address repeated instances of sexual harassment and “outright sexual assault” by Conner during his tenure with the district.
The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut on June 8, alleged a pattern of gender discrimination against Macri and other female employees at Middletown Public Schools, and that Macri was subjected to repeated “sexual harassment and outright sexual assault” from Conner.
“Dr. Macri suffered from such severe mental and physical distress that she had no choice but to leave the job and community she loved in order to escape the abuse,” according to the complaint.
This lawsuit comes in the wake of multiple complaints of bullying, gross sexual harassment, nepotism and patterns of unprofessional conduct dating to 2018 that were brought to the City of Middletown and the Board of Education in October. The behavior claimed in the complaints allegedly prompted the departure of over a dozen female employees.
According to the complaint, Conner’s “disproportionately poor” treatment of female administrators began a few weeks after he joined the district in November 2017. The complaint said that Conner referred to female administrators as “girls,” and yelled at or scolded female administrators publicly “without justification.”
The complaint claims that on January 8, 2018, Conner called Macri into his office and told her “that he thought he was in love with her.” According to the complaint, despite Macri’s continued refusals and attempt to change the subject to work-related issues, Conner “repeatedly professed his sexual feelings for Dr. Macri and told her he was in love with her.”
The complaint alleges that Conner’s behavior and comments continued through the end of the school year and into the following one. In May of 2018, Conner allegedly made explicitly sexual comments to Macri while they were alone in his office. In another instance, in November of that year, Macri was in Conner’s office, and Conner attempted to kiss her while blocking the door so that she could not leave.
The complaint also alleged that in the spring of 2019, Conner began working to “undermine” Macri and “isolate” her.
“Dr. Conner would schedule meetings with Dr. Macri’s curriculum team without her knowledge, would not invite her to the meetings she normally attended, and would make decisions in which she would otherwise be involved without her input,” the complaint reads. It also alleges that Conner made negative comments about Macri to administrators in Middletown and in other districts, including referring to her as a “racist.”
Macri left the district in June 2019 to take a job as the superintendent of schools in Cromwell. Her attorney did not respond to a request for comment by the time this article was published.
The lawsuit claims that Conner engaged in “infliction of emotional distress,” “assault,” and “battery.”
Conner declined to comment, instead directing CT Examiner to a statement published on the Middletown Eye in the aftermath of an investigation into the complaints brought to the Board of Education in October by the firm Thompson Hine. The investigation was commissioned by the Board of Education.
In his statement, Conner maintains that he is “unequivocally and completely innocent of the alleged accusations.”
“Evidence was shared with investigators and the BOE that these false allegations were intentionally fabricated as part of a plan to remove me from the Office of the Superintendent. This evidence was ignored,” Conner wrote.
He also notes that the attorneys in charge of the investigation found that it was “more likely than not” that Conner made unwelcome “romantic sexual statements and advances” toward another administrator, this did not indicate any conclusive evidence being found.
“This is not a definitive charge, but another character-damaging insinuation based on a one-sided, anonymous, and I repeat, false accusation,” wrote Conner.
The investigation dismissed claims that Conner was racially discriminatory in his hiring decisions or that he engaged in racial or gender-based harassment.
No investigation, no formal complaint
The complaint also alleges that Middletown school district’s Title IX Coordinator Marco Gaylord, the director of human resources of Middletown schools, and Board of Education failed to investigate Conner’s behavior despite knowledge of the allegations.
According to the complaint, Macri met with Gaylord in January 2018 and informed him of Conner’s conduct and his professions of love for her. But Macri, according to the complaint, did not file a formal Title IX Complaint out of fear for her professional career.
The complaint said that Gaylord did not push her to file a formal complaint, nor did he reassure her that the district would support her. The complaint also alleges that he failed to investigate her concerns.
The complaint also alleges that Gaylord witnessed an outburst by Conner toward two female administrators in November 2018, and that the Title IX Coordinator and director of operations “did nothing to stop it or to address it afterwards.” In addition, when Macri told Gaylord of Conner’s attempt to kiss her, the complaint alleges, Gaylord did not take any action.
Gaylord has been on administrative leave from the district as a result of the Board of Education investigation into the complaints brought forward in October. The investigation did not substantiate complaints that Gaylord engaged in unprofessional behavior and made insensitive comments.
Gaylord did not reply to numerous attempts to contact him.
Macri also brought her concerns to the district’s director of human resources, and described the details of Conner’s alleged sexual harassment, according to the complaint, but the human resources director told Macri, after consulting with legal counsel, that there was nothing she could do if Macri was not willing to file a formal Title IX complaint “other than implement sexual harrassment training.”
According to the complaint, Macri and the human resources director also brought their concerns about Conner’s behavior to Macri and other female administrators to the then-chair of the Board of Education, Christopher Drake. The complaint states that Drake told Macri that he was unable to take any action if she was not willing to make a written complaint. Macri refused out of fear that “Dr. Conner would retaliate against her and she would lose her job.”
Drake told CT Examiner in an email that he felt the complaint was “missing some important context.”
“I believed Enza then and now. But as board chair I needed something concrete to bring to the board’s lawyers so that I could receive proper legal guidance. After she brought this to my attention, I sought legal advice from the board’s attorney and they agreed that without a formal complaint I was powerless to do anything about it,” Drake wrote.
The lawsuit claims that both the Board of Education and the City of Middletown created a “hostile work environment,” and engaged in “retaliation” and “failure to supervise.”
“The Middletown Board of Education acted with deliberate indifference insofar as one or more officials at the Middletown Board of Education with authority to address the sex discrimination against the plaintiff and to institute corrective measures had actual knowledge of the discrimination and failed to respond and/or responded in a clearly unreasonable fashion in light of the known circumstances. Specifically, the official or officials did not take actions that were reasonably calculated to end the discrimination,” the complaint reads.
Jessie Lavorgna, the district’s director of communications, said that the Board of Education “does not comment on pending litigation.”
The lawsuit also claimed that the City of Middletown acted in similar “deliberate indifference.”
Mayor Benjamin Florsheim told CT Examiner that Macri was not a City of Middletown employee.
“Dr. Macri did not work for the City, and at no point prior to the allegations becoming public was the City aware of them,” Florsheim wrote in a text to CT Examiner.
On June 10, a summons was filed requesting a response from Conner to Macri’s complaint within 21 days.