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Ex-Hempstead employee files lawsuit, alleges constitutional rights violated

In response to a lawsuit filed against Hempstead

In response to a lawsuit filed against Hempstead schools, the district said through a spokeswoman that it had not reviewed the allegations. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

A former assistant superintendent of the Hempstead school district who was fired in 2018 alleges anti-Semitism and retaliation in a lawsuit filed in federal court this week against the district, school board, a district leader and former trustee.

Lawrence Dobroff, who started working for the district in August 2017, alleges his civil and constitutional rights were violated during his time as assistant superintendent for business and operations, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

He alleges the school board fired him on May 28, 2018, in retaliation after he tried to bring attention to those violations, the complaint states.

Dobroff is seeking reparations from the district for "compensatory, emotional, psychological and punitive damages" and for the district to expunge "unfavorable" documents left in his file and to cover his attorney's fees, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit — which was originally filed in September, then dismissed without prejudice on March 12, before being filed again this week — comes amid years of legal battles between the district and Shimon Waronker, who was the district's superintendent when Dobroff was hired.

The battles stem from a long, bitter fight over control of Hempstead’s schools, with accusations of corruption and mismanagement thrown back and forth from the former superintendent and board trustees.

Jonathan Tand, Dobroff's attorney, said Thursday that the district and school board "went after" his client after removing Waronker from his duties in 2018. The board had suspended Waronker after he publicly accused it of corruption in an open letter in January 2018. Months later, the board accused Waronker of corruption, misconduct, bid-rigging and other charges, all of which Waroker has denied.

In response to the lawsuit filed this week, the district said through a spokeswoman that it had not reviewed the allegations.

The district, school board, acting Superintendent Regina Armstrong and former board trustee Randy Stith are listed as defendants in the suit. Attorney Austin Graff, of The Scher Law Firm in Carle Place, is representing them.

Graff, when reached by phone on Friday, did not comment on the lawsuit and referred to the district's spokesperson.

"The school district has not been served with a copy of the complaint and therefore has not had the opportunity to analyze its allegations and claims," said Nicole Epstein, the district spokeswoman, in an email. When reached Friday, Epstein had no further comment from the district.

Among the allegations in the suit, Dobroff claims the school board would "repeatedly [turn] a blind eye" toward anti-Semitic public comments he said were made by Hempstead residents at board meetings and directed at Waronker. Tand, in a phone call on Friday, said residents, none of whom are named in the lawsuit, would make those alleged remarks during the public comments portion of school board meetings.

Dobroff, who made $164,000 a year in his role, claims in the suit that Stith would "repeatedly" say that "Waronker ‘did not belong’ in the district, indicating that the fact that Waronker was white and Jewish meant he didn’t belong. [Dobroff] was offended by these remarks as he is also white and Jewish."

Dobroff alleges Stith sent emails to him saying "we are watching you," after Waronker's suspension in January 2018.

After attempts to bring attention to Stith’s alleged anti-Semitic comments, which are not stated in the lawsuit, Dobroff claims the board put him on administrative leave and subsequently fired him, the lawsuit states.

"I would just refer to the counsel of the school district," Stith said Friday by phone, referring to the allegations in the lawsuit. "I am not racist against anybody. Mr. Dobroff is just looking for a payday. This is yet another frivolous lawsuit against the district in hopes the district will just settle."

Waronker, after being removed from his $265,000-a-year position, alleged violations against the district of his First Amendment free speech rights and 14th Amendment due-process rights.

He lost in federal court and then lost his appeal. He then took his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which dismissed and closed his case last year.

"Waronker’s case raising issues concerning differential treatment based on his religion is currently pending in the state’s Division of Human Rights," Fred Brewington, Waronker’s attorney, said Thursday.

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