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Discrimination lawsuits against NPS include one from Tracey’s temp principal

NORWALK, Conn. — Former Briggs High School Principal Marie Allen is suing Norwalk Public Schools, the City, and former Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski.

Allen, who served as Brien McMahon High School Assistant Principal for nearly five years before becoming Tracey Elementary School Principal from March through June, alleges racial discrimination and retaliation in her demotion from Briggs to Brien McMahon in 2018. The federal lawsuit was filed in October by Attorney Ryan Daugherty. NancyOnNorwalk found it while checking on another lawsuit.

 

It’s a trend

The lawsuit mirrors suits filed by longtime-Norwalk educator Lynne Moore and Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams, who were involved in the situations outlined by Allen in her complaint.

Moore, who was just named Norwalk High School Principal, alleged racial discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliation in her reassignment from West Rocks Middle School principal to NHS Assistant Principal at the end of the 2017-18 school year. Moore is also Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) president; she alleged retaliation because she had defended Allen in a grievance process.

Moore’s lawsuit was filed in September and settled in January.

Penn-Williams filed her lawsuit a year ago. It remains active.

Penn-Williams alleges Adamowski and NPS discriminated against her when she was taken off the substitute teacher list in October 2018. She also alleges  retaliation for exercising her right to free speech. The termination came shortly after Penn-Williams had a heated exchange with the late Mike Barbis, then-Board of Education Chairman, at a Board meeting. Penn-Williams complained of an “all white Board,” decried Moore’s demotion, and called Allen’s treatment “unfair.”

Attorney Daugherty also represents Penn-Williams and represented Moore. He represented Hope Coles in a lawsuit accusing NPS of wage theft, which was settled for $400,000 in 2020.

 

Allen felt targeted

The complaint notes that during the 2015 hiring process, African American Board of Education members felt that an African American candidate for superintendent was more qualified than Adamowski.

Adamowski hired Frank Costanzo as Chief of School Operations despite Costanzo having “recently resigned from his position in New Haven Public Schools due to the complaints of an African American female,” Daugherty writes. Even so, Adamowski assigned Costanzo to evaluate Allen.

The New Haven Board of Education settled the Costanzo lawsuit in 2019 for $150,000. “The settlement agreement expressly states that there is no admission of any wrongdoing,” Attorney Jeff Bagnell, representing Costanzo, wrote to NoN

The Norwalk Board of Education “first heard of the lawsuit when it was filed in 2017 (well after we had hired Mr. Costanzo in 2015),” Barbis wrote at the time.

After Costanzo’s hiring, Allen “immediately felt a change in culture,” her complaint states. Costanzo called her to his office without saying why and told her to bring a union representative. During the meeting, he said it wasn’t disciplinary and asked her to explain why she hadn’t accepted a Caucasian student into Briggs. “Everyone agreed” she’d done nothing wrong.

But later that year, she told Adamowksi she felt targeted by Costanzo and Adamowski assigned someone else to evaluate her. Costanzo continued “to score and make comments in her evaluations, all of which were negative in nature.” After just two months, she was given the first “developing” rating, a rating below “proficient,” in her career. Just the year before, she’d been commended by previous Superintendent of Schools Susan Marks and Assistant Superintendent Tony Daddona.

In 2016-17, hearing that Briggs might be closed, Allen asked about commensurate job openings but Adamowski said they’d already been filled, although that wasn’t true, the complaint states. He asked when she was going to retire; told she was “too young to retire,” he commented that she “looked young” and suggested she apply to other districts or seek a job in Human Resources.

In June 2017, she was transferred to the Brien McMahon post, a demotion. That summer, she was offered a principalship at Bassick High School in Bridgeport, but Adamowski called the Bridgeport superintendent to “sully” her reputation. “Embarrassed,” Allen rejected the position.

During all of this, Moore and Penn-Williams routinely confronted Mayor Harry Rilling and Adamowski to complain about Allen’s treatment, the complaint states.

Allen assumed she’d be considered to be West Rocks principal when Moore was demoted in 2018 but she wasn’t interviewed or considered, the complaint states. Instead, Adamowski appointed Adam Reynolds, a white man who had no middle school experience nor any experience as a principal.

Allen’s extensive experience as a principal includes leading a Washington state elementary school for nine years, a California middle school for more than 10 years and being Ponus Ridge Middle School assistant principal for four years, Daugherty states. She has always received overall evaluation scores of “proficient” or higher and was commended by previous Superintendent of Schools Susan Marks and Assistant Superintendent Tony Daddona.

Allen’s departure from Briggs stemmed from a reduction in force (RIF), given that the school was closed, according to Daugherty. NASA’s contract outlines an RIF procedure, but Adamowski and Costanzo denied Allen her right to the procedure and her right for a commensurate position.

Allen’s “ability to advance at Norwalk Public Schools was significantly impeded. In addition to career advancement, Plaintiff’s ‘salary group’ changed after she was demoted to ‘housemaster,’” the complaint states.

As a result, she “has suffered and will continue to suffer economic damages and severe emotional trauma,” the complaint states, seeking punitive and compensatory damages.

The parties spent nearly six hours discussing the case during a February settlement conference, the federal courts website states.

In March, Deputy Corporation Counsel Jeffry Spahr filed a motion to dismiss, alleging that some of Allen’s claims weren’t pursued by appropriate administrative agencies, while others weren’t filed within applicable time under the Statute of Limitations.

That motion is in process.

Tracey Elementary’s community had hoped Allen would stay on as principal, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella said July 20. She said NPS proposed this, “but Dr. Allen has decided to engage in other journeys that will be announced at a later time.”

3 comments

NiZ August 1, 2022 at 10:34 am

Yes racism & retaliation is real in the NPS System. In all of Norwalk… must be some long time practices too, it’s done so well.

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