Fired elementary school principal files gender discrimination lawsuit

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07/15/2015 5:59 AM |
Patricia Nugent, a fired elementary school teacher from the Shoreham-Wading River School District, has sued the district. (Credit: Facebook)

Patricia Nugent, a fired elementary school teacher from the Shoreham-Wading River School District, has sued the district. (Credit: Facebook)

The Miller Avenue Elementary School principal who was fired last year has filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the Shoreham-Wading River School District.

Patricia Nugent, 53, filed the complaint on Friday at the Eastern District federal courthouse in Central Islip. According to the complaint, Ms. Nugent says district officials retaliated against her after she told them a Miller Avenue custodian had acted inappropriately toward her and made sexist comments.

Prior to a scheduled fire drill, Ms. Nugent said, she was talking to the custodian about emergency procedures when he “snipped” at her by stating: “I can take care of that … You’re in heels.”

Ms. Nugent also claims the man frequently referred to her as “young lady” and that he had aggressively grabbed her shoulder and winked at her, among other inappropriate acts, according to the complaint.

The district first hired Ms. Nugent in August 2011 as the principal of Briarcliff Elementary School. She claims that while she earned “highly effective” ratings for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years, district officials failed to observe her for tenure. School administrators and teachers are evaluated for three years before being considered for tenure.

In July 2013, the district reassigned Ms. Nugent to work as the principal of Miller Avenue Elementary School. Close to 200 Miller Avenue parents — most of them in support of Miller Avenue’s former principal, Louis Parrinello, who was transferred to Briarcliff — attended a school board meeting to voice opposition to the move. The district ultimately decided to reorganize the elementary school program and close Briarcliff, a K-2 school.

After working at Miller Avenue for about a year, Ms. Nugent was fired after the school board approved Superintendent Steven Cohen’s recommendation to deny her tenure.

The school board voted 4-2 to terminate her employment at the June 3, 2014, meeting, with school board vice president John Zukowski and board member Jack Costas voting in opposition. Board member Richard Pluschau was absent.

Ms. Nugent claims she received “disparate treatment based upon her gender” and that district officials created a “hostile work environment” by ignoring her and retaliating against her after she complained about the custodian’s behavior.

Ms. Nugent also stated that she told Alan Meinster, assistant superintendent for curriculum, about the incidents. She claims he “took no action” against the custodian, whom Mr. Meinster said she should speak with directly about her concerns.

“[Mr.] Meinster also cautioned [Ms. Nugent] that she might be perceived as ‘needy’ and ‘sensitive’ for complaining too much,” the complaint states.

As a result of the allegedly hostile work environment, Ms. Nugent said she suffered severe emotional distress with symptoms of “depression, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, fearfulness and anxiety.”

Ms. Nugent is requesting a jury trial and is seeking damages related to lost compensation, emotional distress, punitive damages and attorney fees, among other relief. The amounts are to be determined at trial, the lawsuit states.

On Tuesday, Ms. Nugent deferred comment to her attorney, Cherice Vanderhall of Uniondale.

When asked if Ms. Nugent wants to be reinstated, Ms. Vanderhall said she couldn’t confirm her client is willing to return to the district after experiencing a hostile work environment.

“At this point, Ms. Nugent is looking for justice,” Ms. Vanderhall said.

Mr. Cohen declined comment Tuesday, citing personnel reasons.

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