District Denies Discrimination Claims from East School Custodian, Resurfacing in New Lawsuit

New Canaan Public Schools officials an East School custodian’s clams that she’s been discriminated against by her superiors because of her gender, race and disability have no merit.

Asked about the allegations, described in a lawsuit filed last week in state Superior Court, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi issued a statement Martha Ochoa had made similar claims “in a complaint she filed with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in 2015.”

“After conducting a fact-finding investigation, the Commission issued a finding of no reasonable cause and dismissed the complaint,” Luizzi said. “We expect a similar result in the current litigation.”

Filed June 21 on Ochoa’s behalf by attorney Thomas Weihing of Bridgeport-based Daly, Weihing & Bochanis, the lawsuit names the New Canaan Board of Education as the sole defendant. The case has been transferred to U.S. District Court. Ochoa’s lawyers could not be reached for comment when the firm was contacted by NewCanaanite.com.

A spokesperson for the state’s CHRO also was not available for comment.

According to the complaint, Ochoa is Hispanic and has been working since November 1999 as a custodian at East School. Though it jumps around in time to describe injuries that had affected Ochoa’s ability to work years earlier, the lawsuit focused on a period after August 2015, when it says an African-American man was hired as new head custodian (her boss). According to the complaint, Ochoa reported to that man as well as the district’s facilities director at the time.

Shortly after taking over as head custodian in August 2015, Ochoa’s boss “began to take actions and make inappropriate remarks to employees and agents working on behalf of the defendant,” according to the complaint.

For example, one day in September he “wrongfully accused the plaintiff of not completing work that she was directed to complete,” according to the complaint.

The following month, he referred to her as “Queen” in response to a concern brought by Ochoa, the lawsuit said. Ochoa’s calls to human resources did not result in a meeting, it said.

Additionally, on several occasions, her boss “changed the work duties of the plaintiff and has not provided her with the adequate notice required by the union contract,” according to the complaint.

Subsequent requests for sick leave were denied, according to the lawsuit, and “on or about Oct. 30, 2015, the plaintiff’s depression and anxiety culminated in an admittance to St. Vincent’s Hospital for a period of about one week, whereby she received a doctor’s note on or about Nov. 6, 2015, stating that the plaintiff could not return to work until on or about Nov. 23, 2015.”

The Board of Education at that time requested that she submit to a “fitness for duty” examination, the lawsuit said.

“As a result of the ‘fitness for duty’ examination, the plaintiff was out of work from on or about Oct. 30, 2016 to March 31, 2017. During this time, the plaintiff was forced to use her paid administrative leave until on or about Feb. 1, 2017.”

Citing an earlier arm injury made known to her supervisors, and saying she was discriminated against because she’s a woman and Hispanic, Ochoa “has suffered and will continue to suffer from extreme humiliation, mental anxiety and emotional distress, and has been and/or will be required to assume various incidental expenses, and has lost and will continue to lose earnings and benefits, and her life’s activities have been impaired,” according to the lawsuit.

Ochoa said a Connecticut state law ensuring fair employment practices has been broken and that her Civil Rights have been violated.

She’s seeking monetary damages, attorney’s fees and “such other and further relief” as appropriate, the complaint said.

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