Lunch Lady Sues New Canaan Board of Ed, Citing Abuse by Food Services Director

The director of food services for New Canaan Public Schools in screaming, cursing, throwing objects and otherwise intimidating and degrading women he oversees—causing one to urinate herself and sending others to therapy—has created a hostile work environment that has not been sufficiently addressed by administrators, according to a lawsuit filed Jan. 12 in U.S. District Court.

In her complaint, Antonia Torascio, 58, a lunch worker for 12 years, said Bruce Gluck has abused only women (not men) in the food services division, which is composed of 29 women and four men.

“Mrs. Torcasio was also subjected to listening to Mr. Gluck refer to female members of the BOE, mothers of students and female staff members, including the school principal, as ‘[b-tches],’ ‘morons’ and ‘schmucks,’ ” the complaint says. “Mr. Gluck also used the words ‘[b-tch]’ and some form of the word ‘[f-word]’ when referring to female employees.”

Catherine Nietzel, an attorney at Stamford-based Ryan Ryan Deluca LLP, representing the defendants, said that Torascio and a small group of workers have suffered no abuse—rather, they object to their supervisor seeking excellence in a critically important division whose work directly affects the health of New Canaan schoolchildren.

“She [Torascio] appears to take issue when her boss yells and screams and reprimands her for doing things wrong,” Nietzel told NewCanaanite.com. “And I am not a New Canaan mother of schoolchildren, but if I were, I would want the district’s food services division to demand excellence and strict adherence to guidelines. The needs and of health of students and the rest of the community that benefits are paramount.”

She continued: “In this day of nut-free kitchens and allergies and nutritional guidelines—if I were a New Canaan parent, I would want my food services division to demand excellence. And no one likes a stressful work environment, but the stresses on food services management who have to comply with Department of Health guidelines and the demands of parents, they are considerable stresses—unfortunately, that trickled down and there has been screaming. But we are talking about the health and safety of children and I feel strongly about that, and I think the Board of Education and superintendent feel strongly as well.”

Nietzel said she has not yet formally answered the complaint, though she plans to do so ahead of the April 12 deadline and intends to file a motion stating that Torascio has no claim upon which relief can be granted.

Out on unpaid sick leave since October 2013, Torascio—an Italy native who moved to New Canaan in 1970—is seeking an undetermined amount of back and front pay, compensatory and punitive damages, an injunction against Gluck and the Board of Ed and attorney’s fees and costs.

It isn’t clear just when the alleged harassment is said to have started, though the suit claims that the Board of Ed “for several years” had “actual and constructive notice of Mr. Gluck’s misconduct” and should have foreseen that “such misconduct would continue to harm Mrs. Torcasio and other employees.”

Those other employees include five women whose testimony is cited and quoted in the complaint. Here are some excerpts from the complaint:

  • Anna Granata, a former employee said she was often made to feel like an “animal.” “Mrs. Granata asserts that often Mr. Gluck threw things during his outbursts and ‘in one instance he threw a wooden spoon on the floor but in her direction.’ Mrs. Granata also states that Mr. Gluck’s screaming and demeanor was so intimidating that on several occasions she urinated in her clothes due to the fear. Mrs. Granata resigned in 2010 due to Mr. Gluck’s outrageous misconduct and received therapy thereafter.”
  • Lucynda Graham, a current employee, said she and others are “degraded and that many of her coworkers perform daily duties in a state of constant fear and uncertainty. She states, ‘we are scolded and punished on a regular basis … I have cried many times as a result of such.’ ” Graham and Torascio both say that Gluck had sent them on occasion to wash dishes as a form of unwarranted punishment.
  • Caterina Mercuri, a former employee, said in the complaint: “Mr. Gluck repeatedly screamed at me and other female employees without justification and [he] used profanities … Mr. Gluck also often threw things during these outbursts. During one of such outbursts, Mr. Gluck while screaming and cursing, accosted me and in an extremely intimidating manner neared me to the point where I was pushed back and fell into a chair. Mr. Gluck continued to berate me until I began to cry.” She resigned and also received therapy “due to Mr. Gluck’s misconduct,” she said.
  • Aurea Lopez, a former employee, said: “On many occasions I witnessed Mr. Gluck scream and use profanities directed at female employees. I most of all remember him forcefully screaming at one of the secretaries by the name of Kathy.” She added in the complaint: “I also witnessed Mr. Gluck violently throw lunch meat onto the floor when angry with my female co-worker. This episode was also witnessed by a teacher of the school who, seemingly in shock, asked Mr. Gluck to stop.”

Torascio’s attorney, Richard Pate of Westport, told NewCanaanite.com that there’s a difference between one individual alleging misconduct versus several women doing so.

“I think that is demonstrative of the type of environment that is present in that department,” Pate said.

“It isn’t simply a matter of a stern boss that is a disciplinarian,” Pate said. “It goes beyond that. Some of the persons that used to work there had to go into therapy, and they resigned because they could not take it any more. One of them even urinated her pants while being screamed at by Mr. Gluck. All of these things suggest that this matter is verifiable, so it isn’t just some frivolous lawsuit. It’s a serious matter.”

According to the suit, a complaint regarding Gluck’s conduct had been lodged earlier with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Officials with the Boston office of the EEOC said they’re prohibited by law from confirming or denying the existence of discrimination charge filings, investigations or administrative resolutions.

In a summary of Torascio’s EEOC complaint,the lawsuit says that the Board of Ed conducted its own internal investigation, and that on March 21, 2014, an attorney for the district interviewed Graham.

“The meeting was conducted in the presence of two other Food Service employees, one of them being my immediate manager,” Graham recalled in testimony cited in the lawsuit. “On March 31, 2014, six work days after the interview, I received a letter from Mr. Gluck informing that I would be transferred to West School on April 7, 2014. I believe the transfer was in retaliation for telling the truth during the above mentioned interview.”

Nietzel conceded that the motion to dismiss she’s planning to file is not often granted, but added that she finds “real deficiencies” in the way Pate is constructing his case.

“In my view, he’s trying to fit a square peg into a round hole—the theories he is proceeding upon are not well founded in the law,” Nietzel said.

According to the lawsuit, the EEOC had forwarded Torcasio’s complaint to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, which issued a “right to sue” letter dated Oct. 14.

The lawsuit says that the Board of Ed is in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, including for discrimination based on gender. Part of the complaint says: “All occurrences of misconduct were directed solely at Mrs. Torcasio or other female employees; Mrs. Torcasio never observed Mr. Gluck treat male employees in the manner he treated female employees.”

According to the complaint, one woman—Marie Wilson, a current employee—“ ‘finally raised her voice,’ as Mr. Gluck himself previously testified (while under oath during a deposition in a separate matter). Mr. Gluck admitted that he had been ‘exceptionally critical’ with the staff and Ms. Wilson so that she ‘got upset with [him] … and finally raised her voice that she had had enough of the negative comments.’ He went on to testify that she was very upset and screamed: ‘Enough. You’re always negative. Stop. Enough. I don’t want to hear it anymore.’ ”

After that, the complaint says, Gluck confirmed that a ‘group of staff members … went to speak with the director of finance and I believe they spoke with the human resource director. And I was made aware that I was acting erratically.’ Regarding the same incident, in a separate affidavit, Mr. Gluck attests that certain ‘concerns’ were presented to the Assistant Superintendent for the New Canaan Public Schools by and on behalf of all employees.”

One count of the new lawsuit said that several people—including Wilson, a principal, union representative, BOE director of finance, BOE human resources director and BOE assistant superintendent—had “actual notice of Mr. Gluck’s misconduct.”

Granata’s husband, Mario, became so concerned about what his wife was telling him that he wrote his own letter to the district’s human resources director, the complaint said.

According to the complaint, Gluck—under oath on a separate matter—had described his female employees as coming to their jobs in the food services division “ ‘after their children have left home.’ ”

“ ‘They have not worked outside the home,’ Gluck said, according to the complaint. ‘And so I think that working for a man was intimidating, is intimidating to many of them … I just don’t think there is—there is a comfort level on certain people’s parts dealing with a man in authority.’ ”

The town also is named as a defendant. Nietzel said she intended to challenge the inclusion of the town in the lawsuit, in part because “Boards of Education are arms of the state, not town, and where there are times of overlap between them, the functions of the management of the cafeteria cannot be reasonably said to be one of those times.”

Here’s the full complaint:

Torcasio_v_New_Canaan_Board_of_Education__ctdce-15-00053__0001.0.pdf

2 thoughts on “Lunch Lady Sues New Canaan Board of Ed, Citing Abuse by Food Services Director

  1. These are serious allegations. If true, this man violated not only the rules of employment, but the more important rules of simple decency.

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