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Professor sues SCCC, claiming discrimination, retaliation

Frances Esposito, a Suffolk County Community College adjunct

Frances Esposito, a Suffolk County Community College adjunct professor, speaks in front of federal court in Central Islip on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County Community College discriminated against a disabled professor, denied her for a full-time position despite her qualifications and retaliated against her, a federal complaint filed Tuesday claims.

Frances Esposito, an adjunct professor and reading specialist at the Selden campus, said a back injury prevents her from walking long distances, but the school repeatedly denied her accommodations, such as her request to schedule her classes in one building, technology in classrooms so she wouldn’t have to stand and a chair with proper back support, the complaint said.

Esposito has been subject to the retaliation after filing her first internal complaint in 2010, the suit said.

“It was very difficult. I was always worried about going to work,” Esposito, of Ronkonkoma, said standing in front of the U.S. District Courthouse in Central Islip.

The federal discrimination complaint, filed in the federal courthouse, names the college as a defendant. Also named in the complaint were three employees — Nancy Gerli, academic chair of the reading and college seminar department; Jeffrey Tempera, assistant vice president for employee relations; and Diane Bosco, assistant academic chair of the reading and college seminar department.

“It’s a sad day when you have to file a lawsuit against a public institution to make them respect the well-settled rights of disabled employees,” Esposito’s attorney, Amanda Fugazy of Manhattan, said.

The suit seeks unspecified damages and back wages. Esposito also seeks a full-time position.

Fugazy said her client also has had to walk to class up a hill to a building with no meaningful handicapped parking. Esposito also has had her classes reduced, her attorney said.

SCCC, in a statement, denied the allegations.

“Our college has and will continue to make reasonable accommodations for individuals with legitimate needs,” it said.

Fugazy said the discrimination has been going on more than 10 years. “The bottom line is that every request was met with retaliation, abuse and resistance,” Fugazy said.

Among the retaliation claimed in the lawsuit, Esposito said students told her they “were being approached with an offer to file complaints against me and then they would be given a free grade.”

Esposito said she was “the only professor on campus” whose door was locked before classes, ultimately forcing her to wait in the hallway with her students for security to unlock her door.

Esposito said she suffered permanent spine damage when a riot broke out at Wyandanch High in 2004, where she worked. Her disability makes it difficult to stand for long periods or climb stairs or up a hill.

“This has impacted me, just not emotionally, physically,” Esposito said.

Esposito, who holds a bachelor’s degree in childhood psychology from Stony Brook University and a master’s degree in literacy education from Dowling College, said she was never awarded the promotion she sought even though “I had so many more qualifications than anyone that was hired.”

“One of the women on the interviewing committee came to me and she said ‘Fran . . . don’t try anymore. You’re never going to be hired because you’re disabled,’ ” Esposito said.

In 2010, Esposito filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in 2013 “found probable cause” that the college discriminated against her, the complaint said. The EEOC referred findings to Department of Justice, which investigated and decided in June not to pursue Esposito’s case in federal court.

Fugazy and Esposito acknowledged that the college put Esposito’s classes in one building on the same floor three years ago but Fugazy said Esposito had to walk up and down the stairs to sign in an out of each class.

“I worked so hard to become a professor. This is my life,” Esposito said.

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