Former Middletown School Administrator Alleges in Lawsuit that Sexual Harassment, Isolation and Accusations of Racism Pushed Her Out of District

Jun 22 2022

As it appeared in the Hartford Courant

Former Middletown Associate Superintendent of Schools Enza Macri claims in a lawsuit that the Board of Education and city knew that they were subjecting her to “sexual harassment” and more by former Middletown Superintendent of Schools Michael T. Conner and did nothing to stop it.

The suit claims years of sexual harassment, including Conner allegedly kissing Macri against her will, making lewd comments about her menstrual cycle and ostracizing her from her own job when she tried to report him.

Macri, now the superintendent of Cromwell Public Schools, says she lodged repeated verbal complaints to members of the school board and school district about Conner’s allegedly increasingly inappropriate, behavior toward her “yet they took no action to protect her,” according to the lawsuit filed in federal court for the District of Connecticut on June 8.

Macri has been the superintendent of schools in Cromwell since Aug. 1, 2019, according to court records.

Conner, who is no longer employed by Middletown Public Schools, is named as a defendant in the suit, along with the entire school board and city. He submitted his resignation to the Middletown Board of Education on March 3, 2022, and his resignation was accepted effective immediately, a spokesperson for Middletown Public Schools said Tuesday.

The school district declined to comment on the allegations, saying they do not comment on pending litigation.

The Board of Education in late April began a search to replace Conner, who resigned a month before the city put out a report concluding he “more than likely” had “made romantic or sexual statements and advances toward a senior administrator that were unwelcome,” according to an investigative report issued then. Conner could not be reached for comment. He gave a statement to The Middletown Press last month denying any wrongdoing. His statement characterized the school board report’s finding as “character-damaging insinuation.”

Middletown Mayor Benjamin Florsheim said that Macri “did not work for the city” and that the city was not aware of complaints Macri had made against Conner.

“At no point prior to these allegations becoming public was the City aware of them,” said Florsheim.

The lawsuit, signed by Attorney Nina T. Pirrotti of New Haven-based law firm Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald and Pirrotti, claims the town and board of education acted with “deliberate indifference” and in doing so created a hostile work environment, failed to supervise employees and engaged in retaliation.

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” it, the lawsuit says.

The suit claims that when Macri complained about Conner’s alleged fixation on her to the HR department and other members of the board, she was allegedly told: “until someone puts something in writing there is nothing illegal about a boss that is a jerk or a bad person,” according to the lawsuit. Upon hearing about her verbal complaints, Conner, who is Black, allegedly ostracized Macri and told other administrators that she was racist, the lawsuit said.

For Macri, Middletown Public Schools were not just her place of employment but her community. In addition to her career, “It was also her second family and the cause to which she committed her life,” the lawsuit says.

Macri, who began working for Middletown Public Schools in 2005, was initially excited to work with Conner when he was named the district’s next superintendent in 2017. She hoped they could work together to bring forth his “innovative ideas” on how to close the achievement gap and secure additional funding, according to the lawsuit.

But just a few weeks into his new role, Conner began allegedly mistreating the woman employed by the district, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges that Conner would “become enraged” and “publicly berate” the 10 female administrators in the district and refer to them as “girls,” while praising and comforting the district’s eight male administrators in similar situations.

He also allegedly invited Macri into his office to listen to him scold another female administrator that he allegedly disliked, the suit says.

When Macri questioned why he was scolding the administrator so harshly Conner allegedly replied that it was because he didn’t like the woman’s “face and attitude” and wanted to “show her who the boss was.”

Conner allegedly commented on female administrators’ appearances frequently and linked their looks to their employment, once allegedly telling Macri “he did not like her face” and she needed to “fix it” if she wanted to remain employed there, the suit says.

When Macri first told Conner that his behavior toward women wasn’t right, he allegedly refused to speak to her for weeks, according to the lawsuit.

For more than a year, Conner allegedly professed his feelings for Macri and his desire to have a relationship with her, the suit says. He allegedly called multiple closed-door meetings, often allegedly pulling Macri’s chair closer to him so that their knees were touching, and told her repeatedly that he was in love with her, and that he “could not stop thinking about her,” the lawsuit said.

Macri allegedly reminded Conner that they were both in relationships and that they were colleagues so therefore his behavior was inappropriate. At one point, in January 2018, Conner allegedly told her he was interested in her because she had “as much to lose” as she did. This comment, Macri said, made her fear for her job and behave cautiously.

Macri, according to the lawsuit, first reported the harassment to her therapist, then to Middletown Public Schools’ Title IX coordinator Marco Gaylord. The lawsuit alleges Gaylord, over the course of repeated verbal complaints from Macri, did not investigate the claims or urge Macri to file a formal complaint.

In late February 2018, Macri reported the behavior to the district’s director of human resources, who shared that she also felt uncomfortable with Conner. Macri went back to Gaylord, at the HR director’s advice, and expressed her fears that Conner would sabotage her career. Gaylord allegedly told her he agreed that reporting Conner would be “career suicide,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit claims that, after she spoke with human resources, Conner allegedly ordered Macri into a closed conference room where he continued to make comments about her appearance and his attraction to her.

In November 2018, Macri and the human resources director, who is not named in the suit, reported Conner’s alleged harassment and discrimination of both of them and other female administrators to Chris Drake, then the chairman of the Middletown Board of Education. Drake allegedly told the women he couldn’t do anything without a written complaint and took no further action to investigate their concerns, the suit claims.

Macri also reached out to another board member, Sean King, to report the abuse. King allegedly responded “until someone puts something in writing there is nothing illegal about a boss that is a jerk or a bad person,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that after Conner learned of Macri complaint’s about his behavior he “began to engage in a campaign to isolate Dr. Macri and undermine her authority” and in doing so created an environment in which she could not do her job.

“Dr. Conner had created a fiefdom at MPS in which only those who served him survived, and Dr. Macri had no place,” the lawsuit claims. “It was clear that under his rule she could no longer be a force for good in the community she loved and to which she had devoted her career.”

The lawsuit said that, because of Conner’s behavior, Macri did “the unthinkable: she left her second family and found another job.”

A summons was filed on June 10 requesting that Conner, the board and city respond to Macri’s complaint within 21 days, court records show.

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