Updated, 12 p.m.: Story edited.
NORWALK, Conn. — State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) was denied $79,740 in wages since 2011 because of discriminatory practices by Norwalk Public Schools, his lawyer said in a June 23 letter to Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski.
The resultant complaints Morris filed with the Commission for Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) are “an attempted shakedown … to feather his own nest and to boost his retirement package at the expense of the Norwalk taxpayers,” according to Norwalk Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr.
The CHRO documents were obtained by NancyOnNorwalk through a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request.
There have been comments on NoN about the CHRO complaint, stemming from Morris’ involvement in the “Fix it First” campaign regarding new school construction versus addressing needed repairs on existing school buildings.
“Wow, I guess this is payback by Bruce Morris for getting fired by the BOE…won’t the public love to hear about his extortion attempts which would serve to inflate his pension (amongst other things) …. taxpayers, you have to love this guy!!” Skyler R said on Feb. 13.
“He is probably miffed that his gravy train ended,” CC Rider said on Feb. 14.
“Yes, Bruce Morris is ‘miffed’ as you said and he is after NPS for dollars … and a big pension. Taxpayers, stand by!” BoE member Mike Barbis replied on Feb. 14.
NoN emailed a FOI request to Spahr, who was out of town, delaying the process for a week. NancyOnNorwalk obtained the documents on March 1.
Morris declined to comment last week, on the advice of his attorney.
Morris filed one CHRO complaint on May 23, ahead of his termination on June 30, while negotiating with Adamowski for an increased retirement package, documents obtained by NancyOnNorwalk reveal. He filed a second complaint on Nov. 3, alleging that Adamowski did not tell him that refusing to take the retirement package would mean that he’d be fired.
The BoE was “blindsided” by Morris’ May 23 complaint, receiving word of it on June 23; although Morris was amicably negotiating with Adamowski for a retirement package, he said nothing about going to CHRO, Spahr said in his Feb. 2 response to the Commission.
Adamowski was looking, in June, to make budget cuts in response to the funding allocated by the city, Spahr states. Those would be “in the areas of ‘Instruction’, ‘Maintenance’ and ‘Central Office’. The cuts within the Central Office would involve either the Complainant’s position or the Chief of School Security position,” Spahr wrote.
Morris, who began work as NPS Human Relations Officer in 1998, was “unjustly” disciplined in late November 2015 for failing to follow communications protocol, although that has never been enforced against a Caucasian employee, the complaint states.
That’s part of a “substantial history of racial discrimination,” the complaint states, detailing an alleged pattern of discrimination that began in 2005:
Morris’ position had been classified as a Superintendent’s position, meaning he attended district-wide administrator meetings and weekly cabinet meetings, but in 2005 he was “unjustly excluded” from those meetings, he states.
NPS set him up to fail by reducing his staff and making him the only department head with employees and “yet no clerical support,” the complaint states. His efforts to readjust to staffing concerns was circumvented with the further removal of staff members.
He was given an administrative assistant but that person was also working for three other employees, the complaint states.
The diversity recruitment plans he developed, as part of his job requirements, were “never supported” or brought to the Board of Education for consideration, he states.
In 2006, NPS moved African-American employees to a secluded area of the department, essentially segregating them, the complaint states.
In July 2012, Morris’ pay was reduced, although “similarly situated Caucasian” employees’ pay went up, the complaint states.
“Despite several qualified candidates, Respondents have never hired an African American Superintendent. In fact, for the past twenty or more years, Respondents have predominantly hired only Caucasian Superintendents,” the complaint states.
In 2009, the communications director position, which was held by an African American woman, was eliminated; it was reinstated in 2013 and given to a Caucasian woman, who was paid significantly more, the complaint states.
In September/October 2015, Morris’ position was renamed the School Climate Coordinator, with less responsibilities, including those related to affirmative action and diversity, the complaint states. Morris asked for a job description but that was delayed, undermining his efforts to fulfill expectations.
In November 2015, Morris complained to the human resources department that he was subjected to a hostile working environment but NPS “took no reasonable action to investigate or correct the hostile working environment,” the complaint states.
From October 2015 to May 2016, NPS had no one “responsible for or actively working on issues of affirmative action or diversity for the District,” the complaint states.
NPS attempted to tarnish Morris’ reputation, telling a non-Caucasian employee, during a hearing, that he was not qualified to supervise her, the complaint states. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) tried to get Morris’ title as Human Relations Director reinstated, but was told that Morris was not qualified, the complaint states.
Spahr wrote, “This Complaint was taken for what it was – a naked attempt to leverage or force the District into paying more for his retirement package than what he would have been entitled to receive under the terms of the pension plan. It is clear that the Complainant had calculated that by filing these false claims he would be able to squeeze more compensation out of the District.”
The November complaint states that Morris would have had to release NPS from any legal damages due to discrimination if he accepted the retirement package, again requesting damages.
Spahr’s Feb. 2 response includes the June 23 letter to Adamowski from Morris’ attorney, Dan Angelone.
Angelone requested that Morris be kept on as a consultant for three years after his employment ended, with a pension based on a salary of $180,000.
Spahr’s response mentions that Angelone claims this was a typographical error.
“As you may or may not be aware, employees who successfully litigate discrimination claims are entitled to compensatory damages for pain and suffering,” Angelone wrote to Adamowski. “As a result of the Board’s discriminatory and harassing treatment, my Client has suffered mentally and emotionally. This suffering has manifested itself physically, with such manifestations including, but not being limited to, the following: loss of sleep, headaches, over-eating, weight gain, anti-social behavior and loss of enjoyment of life. While pain and suffering is difficult to calculate, I am confident that a fact finder would award my client an estimated $50,000 in damages.”
Angelone demanded that the position of Human Relations Director be reinstated and that Morris be kept on as a consultant for three years.
Morris had been cut from being a full-time worker to .8, Spahr states in his Feb. 3 response.
“This meant that the employee was supposed to work (though Morris routinely failed to meet this requirement) roughly ‘8/10’s’ of the hours of a full time employee (and be paid on a pro rata basis accordingly),” Spahr wrote.
When Adamowski brought Morris in to talk about the potential for his position being cut, Morris said he’d been thinking about a retirement package but held back because he was not a full-time employee, Spahr’s response states. If a plan could be formulated in his best financial interest, he’d be open to retiring, he said, according to Spahr.
Morris offered a deal in which his pension would be based on the last 12 months of his employment, so if he could be retroactively paid his full rate for six months and then also for the coming six months, Spahr states.
“He also quibbled over the number of vacation days he would be compensated for – claiming that he should have had more on the books then what he was being offered,” Spahr states.
Attorney Tom Mooney of Shipman & Goodwin crafted the deal, and Morris discussed it with Adamowski on June 16, Morris promising that he’d have his attorney review it, Spahr states. A meeting was planned for June 24, but Angelone’s letter came in on June 23, rejecting the offer.
“Instead, Angelone calculated that Morris’ salary should be boosted from a value of $98,589 (the amount Morris would have made as an FTE [full time employee]) to the amount of $103,275.87. Claims were also made for lost wages, “emotional pain and suffering”, and attorneys’ fees. In his letter Atty. Angelone demanded that the District resolve Morris’ claims by adjusting his salary for the 2015-2016 school year to $180,000!!
“Further, it was demanded that, going forward, his pension benefit would be calculated based on a salary of $180,000!”
Angelone also requested that Morris be allowed to purchase life insurance through the district’s insurance provider.
“It was later claimed that the demand for a salary of $180 000 was actually a typographical error – though it was never explained how that could have occurred,” Spahr wrote.
In response to the rejection, NPS attempted to sweeten Morris’ deal, by raising his end salary to $103,000.
As an .8 employee, Morris would receive an annual pension payment of $27,826 but with his salary inflated to $103,000 he’d get $36,338, Spahr wrote.
“Based on payments made over 25 years Morris would receive a Pension payout of $1,092,442.18 – which would represent an increase of over a Quarter of a Million Dollars ($255,917.84) from what he would currently be entitled to receive,” Spahr wrote.
The severance package would include 20 vacation days, and the reprimand would be removed from Morris’ file, Spahr wrote.
The offer was rejected and Morris’ position was defunded at the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1, Spahr wrote, going on to mention that Morris is collecting unemployment compensation.
Morris knew that the district needed to slim down its workforce due to budgetary concerns and Morris’ “claim that this all came as a surprise is disingenuous,” Spahr wrote.
“The Complainant’s fidelity to his job responsibilities was continuously problematic,” Spahr wrote.
The discrimination charge is “as offensive as it is false,” Spahr wrote, listing the number of African American administrators hired by the current Board of Education. Nine of 19 principals are African American and the “Norwalk Early College Academy Director, a Special Education Administrator the Chief Talent Officer, and the Chief Academic Officer are all African American/Black,” Spahr wrote.
Mayor Harry Rilling attempted to negotiate with Morris, and an additional payment of $20,000 was pledged, but, again, the offer was rejected, Spahr wrote.
Still, NPS attempted to settle the complaint, in December offering Morris the generous package again, Spahr wrote.
“Not only did the Complainant’s team reject the generous offer of the Respondent, they submitted a new demand that was shocking (establishing a new level of greed),” Spahr wrote.
That included the previously agreed upon $103,000 ending salary but also “a lump sum payoff of $97,000 (presumably as damages, though never fully explained),” Spahr wrote.
And, “for the purposes of calculating his pension (that is based on the last 12 months of the employee’s earnings) the Complainant demanded that his annual salary rate be considered to be $200,000 per year!” Spahr wrote.
“The Complainant’s effort does not represent an honest attempt to resolve a valid claim of discrimination. Instead, this is an attempted shakedown being perpetrated by the Complainant in order to feather his own nest and to boost his retirement package at the expense of the Norwalk taxpayers. Shameful,” Spahr wrote.
A CHRO Fact Finding Conference has been scheduled for April 18.