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Administrator to sue Massena school district, seeks ‘whistle blower’ protection

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MASSENA — Citing a “toxic” environment, Massena Central School Assistant Superintendent for Business Cynthia M. Yager has filed a complaint against the district, school board President Leonard A. Matthews and Superintendent Roger B. Clough II, and also has served a notice of claim on the district, according to her attorney, Arthur P. Scheuermann, general counsel for the School Administrators Association of New York State.

In addition, Ms. Yager is seeking protection under the state whistle-blower law for reporting “financial improprieties” in the district, Mr. Scheuermann said in a release issued Thursday.

Mr. Scheuermann said Ms. Yager had filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state Division of Human Rights against the district, Mr. Matthews and Mr. Clough.

The notice of claim served on the district is a prerequisite to starting litigation against it, he said.

“Yager is fearful of further retaliation and is concerned that the District will attempt to force her out of her job,” the release said.

In a telephone interview Thursday afternoon, he said there were several components to the action, including an age discrimination case.

Ms. Yager, who plans to retire Aug. 31, reportedly had been suspended with pay Dec. 9 and was prohibited from being on school grounds. However, she later was reinstated to her position, returning to work Jan. 3.

“Yager holds that she has been the victim of relentless discrimination, harassment, intimidation, a hostile work environment and retaliation brought on by the direct behavior and actions of Matthews and Clough,” the release said.

He suggested that under pressure from Mr. Clough and Mr. Matthews, Ms. Yager agreed to include in her January 2011 contract that she intended to retire Aug. 31, 2012.

However, Mr. Scheuermann said, the work environment became “toxic” in spring 2011.

Ms. Yager, a 16-year district employee, lodged a complaint against Mr. Clough with the Board of Education in May 2011, according to her attorney, who said in the release that she had been screamed at and intimidated after raising concerns regarding “the improper appointment of someone other than the business officer as the Records Access Officer and about other financial improprieties within the District.”

Mr. Scheuermann said the board and its attorney assured Ms. Yager her complaint would remain confidential, she would not be subject to further retaliation and a “full and fair investigation” of her complaint would be conducted.

However, he said, Mr. Matthews disclosed the contents of Ms. Yager’s complaint to the superintendent.

“The harassment and humiliation tactics continued however, and escalated after the harassment complaint was filed with the board and Matthews’ disclosure of Yager’s complaint to Clough,” the release said.

That, Mr. Scheuermann said during the interview, led to “multiple reprimands” and the suspension.

He said Ms. Yager has been unable to obtain a copy of the investigation report from the Board of Education on her discrimination complaint to it.

“She will also be filing a court action shortly ... requiring the Board of Education to adhere to its own policies,” he said. “She made a formal complaint to the board. She is entitled under the board’s policy to a copy of the investigative report that was issued. The board and its attorney have refused to turn over the report.

“The elected body, the nine members of the Board of Education, have got to take their duty seriously and start acting,” he said.

He said Ms. Yager also has filed an appeal with the board “to listen to the accusations and judge for themselves. She has been denied the opportunity to have the hearing also. That hearing is entitled to her.”

“Because of this unrelenting discrimination, harassment, intimidation and retaliation, Yager put the District on formal written notice which is a condition precedent to commencing legal action against the District, Clough and Matthews for damage to reputation and career,” the release said.

“In addition, in the notice, Yager alerted the District that she is seeking protections under the state whistle blower laws for reporting financial improprieties in the District. Yager is fearful of further retaliation and is concerned that the District will attempt to force her out of her job,” the release said.

Mr. Scheuermann said Ms. Yager, in reporting financial improprieties, was following statutes enacted in 2008 after the financial scandal in the Roslyn school district on Long Island.

Frank W. Miller, the district’s attorney, said Thursday afternoon that neither his office nor district officials had seen the paperwork filed against the district or the release sent by Mr. Scheuermann.

Mr. Clough issued a press release following Thursday night’s Board of Education hearing, calling the accusations baseless and false.

“We learned through the media today that a district employee has filed a complaint with state and federal agencies claiming age and gender discrimination. We have yet to see the complaint and cannot fairly comment on any specific allegations it may contain,” the release said.

“The accusations contained in the press release are baseless and false. We can tell you that if and when we receive this complaint, we will vigorously defend it,” it continued.

“We can also tell you that this complaint, as described in the press release, likely had its roots in a workplace disagreement over the scope of the employee’s responsibilities. We trust that the public will realize that these false accusations and baseless claims will not shake our community’s confidence in its school or its ability to carry out its mission,” it said.

School board member William G. Sommerfield took the board to task during Thursday’s meeting, noting that district officials had not shown up for a separate court case Wednesday regarding three district employees who had been terminated.

“We have to change. This board represents the people of the community. We as a board have to start doing something,” he said.

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