Bus Driver Accuses School District of Discrimination by Not Hiring Her

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A Bridgeport woman is accusing New Canaan Public Schools of discrimination in declining to hire her as a bus driver.

Though Dawnie Searight has never worked for this district, according to a complaint she filed with the state Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, NCPS in violation of law “made a determination” that she “was not fit to be hired” after learning from a past employer, bus company DATTCO, about “prior allegations” regarding her behavior as a driver.

Following a disciplinary incident where Searight had been driving a bus in an unspecified school district—an incident that prompted a parent’s complaint, more on that below—she was blocked from working for that district. According to Searight, NCPS transportation officials learned about her work history from DATTCO’s director of school operations and, as a result, declined to hire her.

“By telling DATTCO that the complainant wasn’t able to drive, New Canaan Public Schools was in effect acting as my employer,” Searight wrote rather curiously in her CHRO complaint, received Dec. 7 by the town.

District officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Searight, who identifies herself in the complaint as African-American, asserts that her race was in part a factor in the decision not to hire her. It wasn’t clear, however, whether or how district officials learned her race or what part that could have played in a decision to forgo hiring her, given documented red flags in her work history.

She also appears to take aim at DATTCO in the filing, saying that there are “a number of other drivers” who are not black that the company didn’t fire and “were disciplined less severely … for behavior that was at least or even more serious than raising one’s voice at students.”

She appears to be referring to a Sept. 6 incident that DATTCO investigated after receiving a complaint “from a parent regarding your [Searight’s] behavior toward her child on the bus,” according to a letter from Renee Simoneau, the New Britain-based company’s director of school bus operations. Searight marked the letter “Exhibit #1” in her case.

According to the letter, a company called Cooperative Educational Services or ‘CES’ that serves school districts in Fairfield County reviewed a video of the incident on the bus and “instructed DATTCO that you [Searight] be removed from their contract.”

“This is the second school district you have been removed from,” Simoneau’s letter continues. “The first was the Westport school district. We asked you if you would like us to check other districts to see if they would accept you and you stated first Trumbull then New Canaan. We have now received answers from both locations and they have now both disqualified you from driving in their areas. Based on this information, we will have to take you out of service.”

It isn’t clear whether Searight filed a similar CHRO complaint against Trumbull Public Schools.

Searight in her complaint says that on Sept. 6, she was driving “and the school bus monitor asked two of the students to lower their voices.”

“They did not do so,” she recalled in the complaint. The next day, she called her supervisor for “disciplinary slips” and “advised the school monitor that if the students were misbehaving, she should write them up as a consequence.”

Searight’s narrative continued: “On or about September 14, 2017, I was taken off the bus at the instruction of CES, because according to them I was ‘overly harsh.’ I was not given the opportunity to review the recording of these events, nor was I even asked to give my explanation of the events by DATTCO.”

New Canaan has 30 days from the time it received the complaint (Dec. 7) to respond.

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