A former Wyandanch Memorial High School teacher has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school’s principal, alleging in court documents that he harassed her and kissed her on the mouth without her consent, according to a complaint filed in U.S. Eastern District Court in Central Islip.
In the June 1 filing, Filomena Russo, 52, alleges that Principal Paul Sibblies sent her inappropriate texts and videos, made comments about her appearance and touched her without her consent. She said in court documents that her civil rights had been violated.
"She feels sick to her stomach, humiliated, victimized and intimidated, and she finally decided to file a lawsuit … to stand up for herself and others," said her attorney, Ramsha S. Ansari, of Melville-based Slater Slater Schulman. The court documents allege Russo suffered injuries "because of being exposed to sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, and a hostile work environment."
The suit requests a jury trial and punitive damages in an amount "to be determined at trial." The complaint also names the Wyandanch school district as a defendant.
"This is not about the money," Russo, of Deer Park, said in her only comment to Newsday.
Sibblies could not be reached for comment. Wyandanch Superintendent Gina Talbert, in a statement, said: "As this is a matter of personnel and a matter of pending litigation, the district has no comment. "
The court papers say Russo was hired by Sibblies in 2016 as an English Language Arts teacher and that he started harassing her about a year later. The suit said male employees were never treated in this manner.
The suit stated more than one incident between Russo and Sibblies, who allegedly "began leering at Plaintiff and making comments about her appearance." The suit also said he sent inappropriate sexual text messages, rubbed her back and kissed her on the mouth without her consent.
"Plaintiff was afraid of making a complaint against Defendant Sibblies in fear of being retaliated against and losing her job [as] a result of Defendants’ continued harassment … ," the suit stated.
Russo has faced retaliation by the district, Ansari said Thursday, noting that allegations have been made by the district against Russo of inappropriate behavior with students from two years ago. Ansari declined to comment further on what the district alleged, but said they arose four days after the district was served with the suit.
The suit also said Russo filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January 2020 and that she received a letter from the EEOC in April giving her the right to sue in the case.
Sibblies has served as the high school's principal since 2009. Russo remains employed with the district, but was moved to the middle school, Ansari said.
"She loves everything about teaching and loves helping students," Ansari said.