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Valley Stream North teachers file harassment claim against department chair

Valley Stream North High School teachers Alphonso Daddino,

Valley Stream North High School teachers Alphonso Daddino, center, and John Brennan, right, are shown with their attorney, Leonard Leeds, in Garden City on Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Two social studies teachers at Valley Stream North High School who say they were sexually harassed by their department head for five years have filed a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the district failed to protect them.

John Brennan of Brooklyn, who joined the district in 2001, and Alphonso Daddino of Garden City, hired as a part-time teacher in 2003, said the harassment began just after Cecilia Sanossian became chair in the 2009-10 school year.

The district, Brennan and Daddino said, did nothing to help, even after they and eight other staffers from their department sent administrators a signed letter in May outlining the claims.

"We are writing this letter to inform you about the unhealthy and hostile work environment that Mrs. Cecilia Sanossian has created in the Social Studies Department of Valley Stream North High School," it began, detailing what the signers deemed "inappropriate, unwarranted and unsolicited touching of staff" and "unprofessional, demeaning, defaming and objectifying speech toward staff."

The two men described their treatment and complaints to the district during a news conference Monday at the Carle Place office of their lawyer, Lenard Leeds.

District Superintendent Bill Heidenreich did not return calls for comment but released a statement.

"The district is aware of the allegations and is conducting an internal investigation," he said. "Due to matters of personnel, the district is not offering any further comment at this time."

Sanossian, 51, of Garden City, could not be reached for comment.

She no longer is the department chair, according to Brennan, Daddino and their lawyer. She currently is a teacher at Valley Stream North, they said.

Brennan, 42, said Sanossian talked openly about past sexual adventures, bragged about her libido and touched him often, caressing his head and massaging his back, shoulders and neck.

He told her to stop but she didn't, he said, and he felt powerless to prevent the unwanted attention.

It caused problems in his marriage as he brought the stress home with him, Brennan said.

"I'm mentally fatigued, emotionally fatigued, physically fatigued, spiritually fatigued," he said. "It was just unfair. This is really an offensive situation -- particularly when you feel you have no support from areas that should support you."

Brennan said he first told administrators about the problem at the end of the 2009-10 school year.

"I expressed the inappropriateness, how uncomfortable I was," he said. "It got to the point where I wouldn't even go in our office anymore -- I would sit in a separate area by myself in the library just to avoid contact."

Brennan said he filed a sexual harassment complaint with Valley Stream North principal Clifford Odell about Sanossian in February 2013 and Odell replied a month later by letter that there was "insufficient evidence to find a violation of the board policy."

Daddino, 38, said he submitted a complaint of harassment to administrators about Sanossian in fall 2014 but that school officials took no action.

"To see nothing be done about it and to see them not take it seriously, it really upset me," Daddino said. "We got the sense that the fix was in."

Both men said Sanossian threatened to bad-mouth them to their superiors and told them her husband wanted to do them bodily harm.

Daddino and Brennan said they dread seeing her next week as the new school year begins.

Leeds said Sanossian should be disciplined and removed from her post, especially after his clients' claims were backed up by other educators.

"We are concerned about retaliation," he said.


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