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Notice of claim outlines charges against Massena school district


MASSENA - The notice of claim filed against the Massena Central School District by its assistant superintendent for Business seeks $3 million.

Massena Central School Assistant Superintendent for Business Cynthia M. Yager alleges that, despite being told she would be protected and not retaliated against after filing a complaint with the board of education against Superintendent Roger B. Clough II, the harassment continued and eventually led to her suspension in December, according to the notice of claim filed against the district this month.

Ms. Yager is seeking punitive damages of $1 million for her suspension and “barrage of baseless counseling memos since she filed her complaint;” $1 million for violating Civil Service Law 75-b and Education Law Section 3028-d; and $1 million for discrimination.

The 12-page notice of claim was received by the district on March 2. The district’s attorney, Frank W. Miller, said they had received the notice of claim, which is a condition precedent to beginning legal action against the district, Mr. Clough and board of Education President Leonard A. Matthews.

However, he said, they have not yet received a copy of a separate complaint filed with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the New York State Division of Human Rights, also against the district, Mr. Clough and Mr. Matthews.

In the notice of claim, Ms. Yager alleges that she had been subject to on-going “bullying, retaliation and a hostile work environment by Superintendent Roger Clough” since approximately May 25, 2011 when the superintendent “screamed at Ms. Yager and she was terrified he was going to assault her.”

The notice of claim alleges that Mr. Clough violated board policy by appointing someone other than the business officer as the records access officer. The policy notes that “a records management officer shall be designated by the superintendent, subject to the approval of and appointment by the board of education.”

Ms. Yager subsequently lodged an official complaint with the district alleging discrimination, harassment, retaliation, intimidation and a hostile work environment and bullying by Mr. Clough. She presented her complaint on Aug. 3, 2011 to board of education members Ronald A. Faucher, Patrick Bronchetti, John R. Boyce and Cristen R. Halladay, alleging sexual and age-related discrimination from district employees, “including specifically the superintendent of schools,” according to the notice of claim.

“At that time, the board members advised Ms. Yager that they had previously received similar complaints from others regarding Mr. Clough, and they promised Ms. Yager’s complaint would be confidential and her identity not revealed to Mr. Clough,” it says.

The complaint was presented to the full board on Aug. 18, 2011, and the notice of claim alleges that Ms. Yager was assured by the board, its individual members and Mr. Miller that she would be protected and not retaliated against because of her complaint.

However, Ms. Yager alleged, Mr. Matthews provided the information to Mr. Clough. She said on Sept. 6, 2011 she received a call from Mr. Matthews “assuring her he had spoken to Mr. Clough, and that Mr. Matthews had told him he would not tolerate any further retaliation or harassment of Ms. Yager.”

Two days later, Mrs. Yager said in her notice of claim, Mr. Matthews came to her office and asked if she was having a close personal relationship with a board member “and told Ms. Yager he knows how to deal with post-menopausal women.”

Ms. Yager alleged that later that week Mr. Matthews told a relative of the board member that Ms. Yager was the board member’s girlfriend.

“This was consistent with Mr. Matthews’ prior inappropriate behavior toward Ms. Yager. In 2007, during a board executive session at which Ms. Yager was present, she heard Mr. Matthews say he heard she was having an affair with (a former department head in the district),” the notice of claim alleges.

Also in 2007, Ms. Yager alleges Mr. Matthews told her he had heard “she was ‘pimping’ the ladies in the office out to Massena businessmen, that she was having many affairs and that she had naked pool parties.”

Ms. Yager also alleged “improper and possibly wrongful fiscal practices and actions occurring in the district” in a formal complaint made to the board of education in executive session on Aug. 17, 2011.

“Among the list of inappropriate financial practices reported were that the superintendent had eliminated internal checks and balances related to the financial practices of the school district and the district treasurer position was given autonomy of certain financial affairs that exposed the district to financial risk,” the notice of claim says.

The claim alleges the retaliation to which Ms. Yager has been subjected was also because of her reporting financial improprieties by Mr. Clough and the district treasurer to the board.

According to the notice of claim, Ms. Yager executed a successor employment contract with the district on Jan. 28, 2011, running until Aug. 31, 2012.

“Because of the alleged history of discrimination and retaliation she experienced at the district, and under what she believed was pressure .., Ms. Yager had agreed to include in that contract’s ‘Term of Employment’ section a provision that ‘On Aug. 31, 2012 the assistant superintendent intends to retire from Massena Central School District,’” it says.

Ms. Yager alleges that Mr. Clough subsequently retaliated against by issuing a letter of reprimand, the first she had received in her more than 29-year career. That, she alleges, was followed by a second letter of reprimand, “this time over actions involving the district treasurer, to whom he had reassigned duties long performed by Ms. Yager.”

The complaint alleges that Ms. Yager was subjected to “repeated acts of retribution in response to her complaint.”

She alleges that Mr. Clough retaliated against her by “spreading misinformation to the board about her alleged responsibility for apparent compliance errors regarding the C4E (Contracts For Excellence) funding,” and that he subsequently issued another counseling letter to her on Jan. 3. 2012.

“This most recent letter of counseling alleges Ms. Yager was often insubordinate and that she failed to properly execute the C4E funding requirements. Those allegations are false,” according to the notice of claim.

Mr. Clough allegedly forbade the auditor from meeting with Ms. Yager, and he allegedly directed the new treasurer to contact many of Ms. Yager’s business contacts to inform them that she was the new district contact person.

“This includes contacts regarding duties that are officially Ms. Yager’s with the State Education Department, the district’s financial software support people and its fiscal advisory service,” the notice of claim alleges.

“The most recent example of retaliation that Ms. Yager has endured is the district’s refusal to defend and indemnify Ms. Yager in the complaint recently filed against her by the district treasurer. The district’s refusal is in contrast to the district’s affirmative decision to defend and indemnify Mr. Clough as part of any consequences of Ms. Yager’s complaint against him, which cost the District over $27,000,” the notice of claim says.

Ms. Yager alleged that Mr. Clough also gave her “either demeaning menial assignments or assignments that are impossible to complete in the timeframe provided,” and that she had received many “unwarranted and unsubstantiated reprimands since she lodged her complaint.” On Dec. 9, 2011, he allegedly asked for Ms. Yager’s resignation through the district’s attorney. Ms. Yager allegedly refused and, on Dec. 10, she was allegedly placed on administrative leave and directed not to be on district property. She was subsequently reinstated on Jan. 3, 2012.

Ms. Yager claims the length of leave violated her tenure rights under Education Law.

In her claim, she alleges that she learned around the beginning of December 2011 that Michaela Perrotto, who was hired by the district to investigate Ms. Yager’s complaint, had issued a report to the board regarding her sexual and age discrimination.

She said that Ms. Perrotto had promised she would have the opportunity to rebut Mr. Clough’s statements and that she was entitled to receive “a copy of any and all reports issued by the superintendent pertaining to the investigation/outcome of the formal complaint”.”

However, Ms. Yager alleges, she was denied when she requested a copy of the report on Dec. 9, 2011. On or about Dec. 15, 2011, Ms. Yager’s attorney allegedly wrote a letter to Mr. Miller, the district’s attorney, to request a copy of the report and a copy of an audio tape of Ms. Yager’s Dec. 9, 2011 “interrogation.”

“On behalf of the district, Frank Miller responded on Dec. 27, 2011, and refused to disclose the investigative report. Contrary to the clear language of the policy, the district produced only an excerpt of the report, purportedly setting forth the investigator’s conclusions,” the notice of claim says.

Upon receipt of the excerpt of the report in which her claims of sexual and age discrimination were denied, Ms. Yager filed an appeal on Jan. 3, 2012 with the Board of Education of the that decision in accordance with a board regulation. “The board did not turn over the full report or take any action to schedule the appeal,” according to the claim.

Ms. Yager filed another appeal with the board of education on Jan. 25, 2012 and, according to the notice of claim, the board has yet to respond or schedule the appeal “in violation of its own duly enacted policy and regulation.”

Ms. Yager alleges that the “acts of retaliation” by Mr. Clough and Mr. Matthews and “the board’s tacit approval of all of these retaliatory acts” were because of the complaint she made to the board regarding Mr. Clough’s behavior.

“The alleged discrimination, harassment and intimidation to which Ms. Yager was subjected by Mr. Clough, and the allegedly hostile work environment he created for her, as well as the retaliation she allegedly experienced because of her complaint alleging those conditions, have impacted her adversely both emotionally and physically,” the notice of claim said.

Ms. Yager alleges that her reputation has been damaged and will impede her search for new employment. She also alleges that, as a member of the Teachers Retirement System, she will receive a pension upon her retirement, but “failure to be employed in a capacity eligible for TRS credit will adversely affect (her) pension,” and “failure to be employed after Aug. 31, 2012 will adversely affect (her) income and lifestyle.”

Mr. Miller said they would address the allegations once a lawsuit was served on the district.

“They are serious charges in there. Those are all vigorously denied by our clients. I believe that Mr. Clough has already made a statement to the effect,” Mr. Miller said, referring to a release issued by Mr. Clough on Thursday, the day Ms. Yager’s attorney announced they had filed a notice of claim.

“My hope is that people will understand that those things are mere allegations,” he added.

He noted that many of the claims “are barred by either the appropriate statute of limitations or limitations on the filing of a notice of claim.”

At this point, Mr. Miller said, they will wait until a suit is filed by Ms. Yager.

“(The notice of claim) is really a precursor indicating the person intends to file a suit of some kind. We’ll have to wait and see what she actually brings forth. When she does, we’ll have an opportunity to thoroughly respond,” he said.

“I can assure you that the district will vigorously, and I mean vigorously, defend these allegations. They have categorically and unequivocally denied these allegations. They are false. We will stand on that. We’ll be prepared to vigorously resist those charges once they materialize in the form of a lawsuit,” he said.

“Look at how this has all come about. It’s come about as a product of a press release before the district had a chance to see the papers. We learned about the announcement through a press release. That should tell everyone what the agenda is,” he said.

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