Former Middletown school administrator alleges in lawsuit that sexual harassment, isolation and accusations of racism pushed her out of district

Former Middletown Schools Associate Superintendent Enza Macri claims in lawsuit that the Board of Education and the city knew they were subjecting her to ‘sexual harassment’ and more by the former Middletown Schools Superintendent. Middletown Michael T. Conner and did nothing to stop it.

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

Macri, now superintendent of Cromwell Public Schools, says she has made repeated verbal complaints to members of the school board and school district about Conner’s allegedly increasingly inappropriate behavior towards her “yet they don’t took no steps to protect her,” according to the lawsuit filed in Connecticut federal district court on June 8.

Macri has been the superintendent of Cromwell Schools since August 1, 2019, according to court records.

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

The school district declined to comment on the allegations, saying it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

In late April, the school board launched a search to replace Conner, who resigned a month before the city released a report concluding he had “more than likely” made romantic or sexual statements and advances to an administrator superior who were not welcome”, according to an investigation report published at the time. Conner could not be reached for comment. He gave a statement to The Middletown Press last month denying any wrongdoing. His statement called the conclusion of the school board’s report a “characteristic insinuation.”

Middletown Mayor Benjamin Florsheim said Macri “didn’t work for the city” and the city was unaware of the complaints Macri had filed against Conner.

“At no time before these allegations became public, did the City learn of them,” Florsheim said.

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

Macri “suffered from such severe mental and physical distress that she had no choice but to leave the work and the community she loved to escape it,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims that when Macri complained about Conner’s alleged fixation on her to the human resources department and other members of the board of directors, she was told, “until someone puts something in writing, there is nothing illegal about a boss who 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 directors she was a racist, according to the lawsuit.

For Macri, Middletown Public Schools was not just his workplace, but his community. In addition to her career, “it was also her second family and the cause she dedicated her life to,” the lawsuit states.

Macri, who started 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 showcase his “innovative ideas on how to close the achievement. gap and obtain additional funding, according to the lawsuit.

But just weeks into his new role, Conner allegedly began abusing the woman employed by the district, according to the lawsuit.

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

He also allegedly invited Macri into his office to listen to her scolding another female administrator whom he hated, according to the lawsuit.

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

Conner reportedly frequently commented on female administrators’ appearances and linked their looks to their jobs, once telling Macri ‘he didn’t like her face’ and that she had to ‘fix’ it if she wanted to stay employed there, according to the trial.

When Macri first told Conner his behavior toward women was wrong, he allegedly refused to talk 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 lawsuit says. He reportedly called several closed-door meetings, often bringing Macri’s chair closer to him so their knees touched, and repeatedly told her that he was in love with her and that he “couldn’t stop thinking to her,” the lawsuit said.

Macri allegedly reminded Conner that they were both a couple and co-workers, so 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. That comment, Macri said, made him fear for his job and behaved cautiously.

Macri, according to the lawsuit, first reported the harassment to his therapist and then to Middletown Public Schools Title IX coordinator Marco Gaylord. The lawsuit alleges that Gaylord, during Macri’s repeated verbal complaints, failed to investigate the allegations or urge Macri to file a formal complaint.

In late February 2018, Macri reported the behavior to the district human resources manager, who shared that she also felt uncomfortable around Conner. Macri returned to Gaylord, on the advice of the director of human resources, and expressed her fears that Conner was sabotaging her career. Gaylord allegedly told her he agreed that reporting Conner would be “career suicide,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims that after speaking 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 director of human resources, who is not named in the lawsuit, reported Conner’s alleged harassment and discrimination against them and other female directors to then-president Chris Drake. of the Middletown Board of Education. Drake allegedly told the women he could do nothing without a written complaint and took no further action to investigate their concerns, according to the suit.

Macri also reached out to fellow board member Sean King to report the abuse. King reportedly replied “until someone puts something in writing, there’s nothing illegal about a boss being a jerk or a bad person,” according to the lawsuit.

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

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

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

A subpoena was filed June 10 asking that Conner, the council and the city respond to Macri’s complaint within 21 days, according to court records.

Martha K. Merrill