The tension that boiled over earlier this month between the Katonah-Lewisboro District Teachers Association (KLDTA) and Katonah Lewisboro school district (KLSD) continues as new details emerge about a lawsuit filed against the district from a tenured special education faculty member.
In a lawsuit filed with the Westchester County Clerks office on Nov. 29, Kristin Peterson claims to have been the victim of a hostile work environment based on harassment and bullying in the KLSD. The lawsuit names the KLSD, school board, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Kreutzer, Director of Special Services Connie Hayes and Katonah Elementary School Principal Jessica Godin as defendants.
“We believe the claim is absolutely without merit,” the district said in a statement. “Upon the advice of counsel, we will not provide further comment on pending litigation.”
Ms. Peterson, a social worker in the elementary schools, claims that she has been the victim of a series of retaliatory acts by her superiors and the district stemming from an incident on Sept. 1, 2011, when she spoke out against a member of district counsel for insulting staff members. The lawsuit alleges that she has been the victim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and violations of civil rights under a number of laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“Since her employment by KLSD in 1997 through receiving her tenure in 2000 and until she spoke out against Defendant KLSD staff and its attorney, Emily Lucas, Peterson had never been disciplined and no grievance was ever filed against her,” according to the lawsuit, which is on The Ledger’s website.
Shortly following the initial incident, according to the lawsuit, Ms. Peterson was accused later that month by her superior, Ms. Hayes, of “manhandling” and “dragging” a special needs student to the bathroom.
Several days later Ms. Peterson received a letter reassigning her to home duty.
“KLSD has engaged in a pattern and practice of discriminatory, tortuous and wrongful conduct against Peterson,” according to the lawsuit. “Plaintiff Peterson was labeled as a child abuser by KLSD and was removed from her position because of this incident. Plaintiff was wrongfully accused and defamed by Defendants.”
In addition, Ms. Peterson alleges that Dr. Kreutzer demonstrated defamatory behavior toward her over a series of months and that she was repeatedly harassed and intimidated by Ms. Godin.
The case falls under KLSD’s insurance provided by New York Schools Insurance Reciprocal (NYSIR), according to representatives of both sides, and therefore the district will not be responsible for litigation costs and any potential settlement costs.
The lawsuit seeks an expungement of Ms. Peterson’s record and compensation for damages sustained by the plaintiff, including legal fees. It also seeks to have a court-ordered supervised employee training and anti-bullying programs for all employees and students within the KLSD on a periodic basis at least four times a year.