A former Bridgeport assistant superintendent of schools has sued the school district claiming she was laid off because she has a disability and is white.
In her reverse-discrimination federal lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut against the Bridgeport Board of Education, Deborah Santacapita said her position was eliminated while two black assistant superintendents who were less qualified kept their jobs.
The move, the lawsuit states, would not have happened if Santacapita were black.
“The defendant and its superintendent of schools have stated that a goal for the defendant was to increase the number of minority educators that it employs,” the lawsuit states. “A motivating factor in the defendant’s decision to lay off the plaintiff as opposed to laying off [her two black peers] was its goal of increasing the number of minority educators in its employ.”
Most students in the Bridgeport school district are minorities.
The lawsuit further states that “[o]ther than for her race and color, the plaintiff would not have been laid off by the defendant.” The lawsuit cites violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act.
Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Aresta Johnson, City and Board of Education attorney R. Christopher Meyer and the two black assistant superintendents did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
The lawsuit maintains that Santacapita, who was employed in various roles at the school district from 1995 to July 2018, informed Johnson in March 2018 that she was suffering from advanced degenerative disc disease and stenosis for which she might need surgery at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year. The disease substantially limits a person’s major life activities, including standing, bending, walking and working.
The lawsuit states that on July 13, 2018, chief talent officer and human resources staffer Frank Chester hand-delivered a document titled “Separation Agreement and General Release” to Santacapita, stating that her position would be eliminated. The letter also stated that “the parties mutually agree that Santacapita’s employment with the board should end.”
The lawsuit states that Santacapita, who worked for the district for 23 years, “was never provided any notice that her position was being eliminated and never agreed that her employment should end.” Her position was officially eliminated five days later.
The lawsuit further states that Santacapita’s “performance as assistant superintendent of schools exceeded” that of her black counterparts.
The lawsuit states that Santacapita, a Fairfield resident, received various promotions during her tenure and obtained various advanced degrees in education, including being awarded a doctorate degree. It adds that she also has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in art.
The lawsuit says one of the two black assistant superintendents possesses neither a doctorate degree or a superintendent’s certificate. In addition, it claims that “the plaintiff attended meetings with the superintendent of schools and the other assistant superintendents during which the superintendent of schools would express her disappointment with the job performance of [the two black assistant superintendents], asserting they did not follow her instructions, directions, and communications in a timely and effective manner. … The plaintiff was never criticized by the superintendent of schools in this manner.”
The suit goes on to say that Johnson employed an “executive coach” to assist the two black assistant superintendents in the performance of their job duties, while Santacapita did not require that assistance, nor was one assigned to her.
Representing Santacapita is Thomas Bucci of Bridgeport-based Willinger, Willinger & Bucci. Bucci declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The case is scheduled to be heard in front of Judge Janet Bond Arterton.