Former Middletown Schools Chief May Have Sexually Harassed More Women, Lawsuit Claims

Nov 16 2022

As It Appeared In The Register Citizen

MIDDLETOWN — An amendment to a federal lawsuit filed by an education official claims anonymous statements sent to the Board of Education show former Superintendent of Schools Michael Conner may have sexually harassed other women.

Enza Macri, a former assistant superintendent for Middletown Public Schools who is now Cromwell’s superintendent, filed the lawsuit in June in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut against Conner “in his individual capacity,” as well as the Board of Education and city of Middletown. Conner, who had been on leave since last fall, resigned in March.

Macri claims in court documents that she was repeatedly sexually harassed by Conner who at one point forcibly kissed her, but the Board of Education and school officials who knew of the allegations took no action for months.

In a 44-page amended complaint filed Nov. 1, Macri’s attorney Nina Pirrotti contends an investigation into Conner’s conduct was not launched until the Board of Education received 30 complaints from union members and another 22 anonymous letters from female education professionals, including some who also alleged being harassed.

The 22 education professionals anonymously sent letters to the board, explaining why some of them resigned and why Conner’s behavior and the conduct of administrators who covered for him was creating a hostile work environment, the lawsuit said.

In at least one case, a woman who worked with Conner in his previous job in New Haven alleged in her letter to the board that she was also sexually harassed by the former Middletown superintendent, according to excerpts taken from the letters, Pirrotti said in the lawsuit.

Another anonymous statement said Conner would physically pull her and another administrator into his office, shut the door and then discuss his previous girlfriends, the anonymous letter said, according to the lawsuit.

In another letter, a woman told a school board member and the panel’s attorney about Conner’s treatment of Macri, but when nothing happened, she opted to leave her job, the lawsuit said.

“We have policies and laws that are supposed to protect us!” the woman said in her letter to the board, according to evidence collected by Pirrotti. “How do you allow this to happen to all these women who have left the district.”

“The allegations in the amended complaint we believe provide an even more robust explanation of the facts that we have alleged which we contend support our legal claims,” Pirrotti said Tuesday.

Conner’s attorney Renee Dwyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Attorney Michael Rose, representing the board, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

In the lawsuit, Pirrotti also contended that the Middletown school district’s Title IX coordinator, Marco Gaylord, who is responsible for dealing with complaints of sexual misconduct, erroneously told her client several times there was nothing he could do about Conner’s behavior unless she filed a written complaint.

Gaylord also failed to tell Macri that the district could investigate her claims without revealing her identity and would protect her against retaliation, the amended complaint said. Gaylord was placed on paid administrative leave in January. It was unclear if he is still on leave as of Wednesday.

In the lawsuit, Macri alleged Conner said he “could not stop thinking about her during the holiday.” Conner also claimed he was “in love” with her, according to the lawsuit.

“He also attributed their disagreements about MPS-related issues to being like a married couple arguing about what they thought was best,” the lawsuit stated.

He also described his body parts during one conversation, Macri said, according to the lawsuit. Macri would try to limit her time with Conner, she said, but that was often nearly impossible so she met with Gaylord and the school district’s human resources official repeatedly, but no action was taken until October 2021 when the board received the more than 50 complaints, the lawsuit said.

An independent investigation, prompted by the anonymous union letters sent to the Middletown Union Coalition into alleged workplace harassment by top central office leaders concluded in May that the ex-superintendent “more likely than not” made “unwelcome” “romantic or sexual statements” and advances toward a senior administrator. Other than a three-page summary, the investigation report into Conner has never been released.

The lawsuit is proceeding with both attorneys required to submit initial evidence by Dec. 2, court documents said.

Managing Editor Cassandra Day contributed to this story.

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