Peterson lawsuit paints hostile picture

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.

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  • Alex A

    Always seems to be bad news after bad news with this school district. At what point do we hold the Board accountable?

  • Just keep paying your taxes nothing to see here.

  • Lia.ianuzzi

    Wow. Last November 2011 Kreutzer threatens a hearing- then three days before Christmas and after the lawsuit is filed- Kreutzer and the BOE do file charges. Sounds fishy? Points to retribution.

  • KL watcher

    Seems more like the Sup and BOE are trying to protect the district from a lawsuit that doesn’t have any merit. Peterson didn’t handle her duties appropriately, and didn’t follow the reasonable steps the admin set forth to handle her case. In the corporate world, Peterson would have just been fired for her actions and insubordination. But because she has tenure and she has a union that will stand behind any employee (whether right or wrong) and taxpayers fund a defense or pay damages, every employee with sensitive feelings feels the need to file a lawsuit and take advantage of taxpayers, which ultimately takes away from student education. Lots of great, hard-working, dedicated teachers/staff in KLSD – too bad a few rotten apples spoil the bunch. Time for the union to realize its recent actions are casting a negative opinion on itself, and the public has had enough of getting screwed. Peterson is looking for the district to fund her way out. Hope the BOE doesn’t find that it’s cheaper to settle than to fight- that’s why so many unsubstantiated lawsuits are filed in many school districts to begin with.

    • Lia.ianuzzi

      Just what duties were not performed? And where was the insubordination?She has performed her duties and has many emails documenting thanks and appreciation from the Administration .There was nothing negative in her personnel file until Connie Hayes accused her of Child Abuse. Charged with Child Abuse by district personnel, put out on home instruction and the district did not call the police. That is a crime.
      Not follow the letter of the law as Mandated Reporters Things like this occurred in Bedford and heads rolled. The police should investigate the district’s negligence. Connie Hayes, Jess Godin and Paul Kreutzer could be charged with a crime: not reporting Child Abuse as a Mandated reporter. This is a huge issue. Who is really protecting our children? Kreutzer was/is more interested in power that he was negligent. Ms. Peterson has been a highly valued employee until Connie Hayes accused her of Child Abuse. Will the District Attorney please weigh in?

    • Dandylion

      Maybe what the BOE needs to be more concerned about is the fact that Hayes, Godin and Kreutzer did not contact the authorizes when they accused Peterson of Child Abuse.

    • Klwatches

      The was serious negligence by Godin, Hayes, and Kreutzer when the accused Peterson of child abuse and they failed to have the student evaluated by the nurse at the Health Center. The student was never spoken with or evaluated by the medical professional.

  • anon

    CHILD ABUSER??????????? That is the most preposterous thing I have EVER heard!!! I have known Kristin Peterson for the last 15 years and the LAST thing she is is a child abuser. Both of my children have special needs and she was enormously helpful to both of them and met with me and my husband on several occasions as well. I have never in my life seen a more dedicated educator/social worker. She is warm, caring, kind, hard working, precise, dedicated, patient and highly intelligent. Her wealth of knowledge and expertise is an asset, not a liability. Her absence brings about a huge loss for KLSD. I do not know what happened with that particular child. I know that something similar happened to one of my sons with a teacher who was also put on suspension and then returned. What I do know, is that Kristin Peterson is a woman of great integrity as well as completely dedicated to her students. There is no reason that she would’ve pressed charges if it wasn’t all true. She has been in this district a very long time, however, at least two of the co-defendents had JUST started working here! hmmmm… One, who’s gotten himself into hot water already with many of the teachers. hmmm…

    Ms. Peterson nearly lost her life to cancer, for God’s sake. What is wrong with these people? Its obvious that they are discriminating against her. I wish Ms. Peterson Godspeed and hope that she wins! She IS a winner and always will be!

  • reeve1

    The plaintiff in this case was the subject of a serious charge about her handling of a special needs child, and has every right to seek vindication through this lawsuit.

    It would be interesting, however, to know who brought this case to the newspaper’s attention? The continued innuendo being preached by the teachers union, err, I mean, the anonymous bloggers, itself based on an unanswered complaint, is premature at best, and personally, makes me suspicious of the plaintiff’s claims.

    • Soros

      It’s not uncommon for reporters to keep an eye out on the court dockets for relevant lawsuits.

  • Lia.ianuzzi

    And just what do you make of a HR department that recieved multiple letters of documentation, reporting abuses by Administration and not one complaint was investigated. That is pure negligence on the part of Kreutzer, Persampieri, and the BOE.

    • Lewis Boro

      Is this lawsuit going to be played out in the newspaper or a court of law? What side has the most to gain by going public with a personnel matter ? The biggest losers will be the residents and children of the district.

      • John

        Is seems important that the public know how the BOE and Kreutzer have decimated moral, reportedly been abusive, and failed to follow the law as mandated reporters. The BOE minutes are public. The lawsuit was already public information. The children are already loosing with faculty experiencing a hostile work environment.

  • Lewis Boro

    @ John I have not seen any comments from parents suggesting the teachers union dispute with the BOE and DR. Kreutzer has spilled over into the classroom. Are you trying to inflame this labor dispute by saying the teachers are not professionals and cannot keep their students out of this?

  • Lance

    Let’s see: the lawsuit supports each claim that KLDTA has brought to the forefront of public attention, Peterson has had three observation/evaluations in 15 years (each one exemplary)- but only 3 in 15 years (I gather Administrators were not doing their jobs), a lawsuit is filed and then Kreutzer and the BOE fabricate charges in a 30-20a, Peterson was never in a disciplinary conference until Hayes accused her of Child Abuse, oh- then the district does not report the supposed event to the police- therefore breaking the law, Peterson writes multiple letters to HR- documenting abuses and Persampieri does not investigate any of her complaints and never initiates a conversation with her regarding any of the documentation, Jess Godin came to KES misrepresenting herself as a wife and mother when truly she was in the process of divorce (I wonder what additional information has been miss-leading), Jess Godin came to KES as a 31 year old individual- proclaiming to have 12 years of educational experience (she must be a prodigy who graduated with her Masters degree at 18), if not a prodigy- then Godin misled the public, Godin was crying at a faculty meeting, Hayes is inept at communicating with her departments and she has not performed her job when she has cancelled or not scheduled Department meetings on a monthly basis, Hayes has not provided appropriate training for the Special Education staff and that is well documented. I am certain others could add to this list. What has happened to the KL district? Our valued Administrstors have chosen to leave. And look who is left. Why did they leave? I bet it is related to Peterson’s claims of a hostile work environment, lack of communication, and disregard for professional judgement.

    Dr. Kreutzer, he who casts the first stone should be without sin. You have a sordid history. A history that includes: bullying, fabricating history, dishonesty, anger management, and hostile interactions.

    Before you and Hayes and Godin arrived- Peterson never, ever had any complaints. Coincidence?

  • Dandylion

    Perhaps Kreutzer is not familiar with what happened to Superintendent Debra Jackson, from Bedford, in 2007? Maybe someone on the BOE should inform him of what can occur when Mandated Reporters do not do their job. It is a crime.

  • Hobbits

    The District Attorney will be apprised of these shenanigans by Kreutzer and Hayes and the BOE.

  • Hobbits

    Just how does Kreutzer and the BOE charge Peterson with over 30 charges in a 30-20a and at no time (except when she was accused of Child Abuse- and Hayes and Godin did not contact the police)- at no time has Peterson ever had a disciplinary conference? Peterson has not had any conferences with Human Resourses and there has been no documentation placed in her file. Is Kreutzer re-writing history? Where is the evidence? Hearsay- is all it is, if there was no timely documentation. The problem here is that Hayes, Godin and Kreutzer are making up history. Do our BOE members have independent thoughts? Are the BOE members puppets controlled by the hostile and threatening Kreutzer? There is even a BOE member who Peterson helped their child. Have the BOE members asked for the concrete evidence? Negligence.

  • Acorn

    The district is proving to be negligent in not having a substitute while Ms. Peterson is home being further abused by Kreutzer and the BOE.

    Does Kreutzer not think that the children at Meadow Pond are valuable? With Ms. Peterson home, there is no Social Worker in the building. Clearly, with all the tragedy so close by- it is negligence on the part of Kreutzer and the BOE not to hire a substitute. The children at Meadow Pond do matter!!!!

  • Curious

    I read in yesterday’s Journal News that lawyers for Peterson said she was ‘fired’ by the district two weeks ago. I thought it was a long, legal process to fire any tenured employee. Is true that she’s been in fact fired, or has she been put on a paid leave until the matter is settled?

    I’m also sure that it’s a union contract thing, but I don’t understand why an employee accused of wrongdoing continues to get paid while not working. I would say investigate the matter. If cleared, the employee gets paid back retroactively. If not, the salary of that employee could be used to pay for a replacement, therefore, there would be no lose in services provided to students, nor double compensation incurred by the district.

  • Acorn

    Can the BOE, Kreutzer or Connie Hayes explain why yesterday 1/4/13- at a Committee on Special Education meeting that was held at Increase Miller for a special needs student in JS’s class—— why in the world Connie Hayes abruptly got up and left, literally walked out- of the meeting? Ms. Hayes did not acknowledge needing to step out. She just left the meeting and no one in the room had any idea if she were coming back. The parents, specialists and teacher were dumbfounded. Would the District Office care to comment?

  • Just saying….

    I’ve been in meetings, in the private sector, where someone has abruptly walked out without explanation. Sometimes, I’ve found out the reason why and sometimes I never did. In any case, I don’t understand why Connie Hayes’ departure has to be explained in this forum. Perhaps those in attendance need to know why she left, particularly if her presence at the meeting was required. However, we the public, don’t need that information to be passed on to us via the Lewisboro Ledger.There’s enough going on that if Ms, Hayes departure was related to her not carrying out her responsibilities, the community will eventually know why. Unless, Acorn, you were sitting in on the meeting, and the meeting couldn’t continue without Hayes, I think you should MYOB and let the school district deal with the issue. I know the community expects and should have transparency and trust in the BOE and school administrators, but it looks like some are just looking to add fuel, even when there may not be any fire.

  • Acorn

    The meeting becomes illegal if the Chairperson is not there. And you are right, with so much going on….. And so much of the problems associated with Connie Hayes…. All the more reason to raise a question of “why” she would walk out of a CSE meeting. Very bizarre behavior for CSE.

  • Right back at you

    Hey there “Just Saying”,
    In light of all the abuses in the KL system wouldn’t you agree that Connie Hayes’ behavior is important to the community? She has led the charges against Peterson. Ouch, maybe it stings to have the table turned.

  • Right back at you

    Another serious issue is the hostile work environment that Kreutzer, Godin, the BOE and Connie Hayes have created. Just put your ear to the community. Listen. Many residents and staff are thrilled that Peterson has the fortitude to fight this Goliath, corrupt, fear based system. It would appear that Persampieri came here with a decent track record in Somers. Now he has engaged in the mud-slinging. He himself did not follow through on requests from Peterson to meet with him and he also ignored the multiple letters that were sent to him by Peterson. It would seem prudent that the Superintendent of HR would respond to letters written by a staff member. What is his excuse? Was he bullied by Kreutzer into ignoring the documentation of the hostile abuses and hostile work environment created by Godin and Hayes? There are many unanswered questions. It is so very interesting that Peterson files the lawsuit and the retaliatory behavior of Kreutzer and the BOE is to file made up 30-20a charges. Wow is that a coincidence?

  • Hostile BOE

    Another serious issue is the hostile work environment that Kreutzer, Godin, the BOE and Connie Hayes have created. Just put your ear to the community. Listen. Many residents and staff are thrilled that Peterson has the fortitude to fight this Goliath, corrupt, fear based system. It would appear that Persampieri came here with a decent track record in Somers. Now he has engaged in the mud-slinging. He himself did not follow through on requests from Peterson to meet with him and he also ignored the multiple letters that were sent to him by Peterson. It would seem prudent that the Superintendent of HR would respond to letters written by a staff member. What is his excuse? Was he bullied by Kreutzer into ignoring the documentation of the hostile abuses and hostile work environment created by Godin and Hayes? There are many unanswered questions. It is so very interesting that Peterson files the lawsuit and the retaliatory behavior of Kreutzer and the BOE is to file made up 30-20a charges. Wow is that a coincidence?

  • anon

    Look folks. I have also worked with Ms. Hayes, extensively for the last 15 months as I have a child with special needs and I think that she’s one of the best heads we’ve ever had. (I’ve worked with six) Is it possible, that she was acting under pressure from not only an abusive superintendent but a couple of angry lawyer toting parents? The reality is that we do not have the entire story. I am still perplexed how and why she could deem Kristin Peterson a “child abuser,” but again, we do not have the entire story, and its unlikely that we ever will, from that standpoint.

    However, please, let’s look at one other critical aspect and that is of the rest of our children. One out of five children in this district requires the services of the special education department. In addition since 2006 when Peter Beardsley left, we have gone through FIVE other heads of the CSE – Ellen Doherty (no longer with the district in any capacity), Christine Chambers Szafranski, Phyllis McGill, and interim and now Ms. Hayes. See a pattern here? The longest tenure was that of Ms. McGill at about 18 months. Folks, the job is HELL ON EARTH! And made all the more so by incompetent, seedy, greedy superintendents such as Roelle and Kreutzer. They do not care about our district or our children, much less the staff they were/are supposedly supervising. They were/are both here to make a quick buck and then get the hell outta dodge. I opposed, vehemently the appointment of Kreutzer as did hundreds of other people in our community. Folks who did their homework, when obviously, the BOE did not.

    I am absolutely horrified to hear that there’s no social worker at Meadow Pond. That is absolutely reprehensible. I am also extremely worried, that our children with special needs and their families will have to get yet another CSE chair person up to speed, as if this kind of bashing continues, in the media and otherwise, I fear that Ms. Hayes will leave. I do not know how she’s doing with other cases, but she has always been fair and professional with us. If she walked out of a meeting, it was probably because she was ready to self-combust. Ever been to one of those meetings? They are often full of highly emotionally charged, ANGRY, INSANE parents— like me. We only want what’s best for our children with special needs. We didn’t ask that they have these needs, but alas, this is the hand we were dealt. Are the administrators, social workers, and people who are dedicated to these children perfect? No, they are not, however, with the exception of one of those CSE chairs, (the one who is finally totally gone), I have always been impressed with their professionalism, knowledge, sensitivity and dedication to the students of our school district.

  • dave

    Anon, I have also worked with Hayes as a parent of a special needs child. I have recorded and written documents that prove she has lied on several times about important issues relevant to my child’s needs. Yes there will be a costly law suit. Not because I am some sue happy nut but because KLSD has a LEGAL obligation to provide a FAPE to my child. Hayes has played the ” I’m new here I not sure how things work for a year” Now its ” we are going to have a great program next year” show.

    Most Spec Ed parents are angry because they realize their child is not getting an appropriate education and are constantly lied to. The only thing the KLSD BOE understands is large public lawsuits exposing there incompetence. The BOE should stop endless BOE meetings about the GREEN policy and sustainability and try and figure out how to run a district. Anon I hope you stop drinking the KLSD cool aid and your child gets an appropriate education as guaranteed under federal and state law (IDEA )

    • kevin

      Maybe you should contact Peterson to provide more documentation of the untruths that Hayes says……?

  • I have spoken to Peterson on several occasions but have not informed him of the new information because it had to do with my case. If he wants or needs the info I would be glad to share it with him. There are several other parents that have been contacted in regards to the Peterson case, it will get more interesting as the wheels come off the Admin. and School Board Bus. I smell another settlement and sweep it under the rug SOP for KLSD. And don’t forget to blame the LAWYERS Lipton !!

  • Anon mom

    This district does nothing but bully and torture students, parents and staff that stand up for common sense. I’ve seen children, parents and staff tortures, accused of ridiculous things and abusing students verbally, emotionally and systematically. I hope Kristin, whom I’ve known for years, wins, and the entire administration stripped and rebuilt.

  • jmavorneen

    Seems like this is a case of parents and children and now teachers being bullied by those who one might consider power and control a necessity… This is a repeat of the behavior I experienced when Paul Kreutzer was in Wisconsin.

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