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Suit: Former LI schools employee says he was discriminated against

Hempstead School offices at 185 Peninsula Blvd. on

Hempstead School offices at 185 Peninsula Blvd. on April 30 in Hempstead. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former Hempstead schools facilities director is suing the Hempstead school district, its board of education and several officials, claiming he was discriminated against because he is white.

Robert Rafferty, in a complaint filed June 6 in Central Islip’s Eastern District federal court, alleged his civil and human rights were violated and that he faced retaliation from district officials while trying to expose corruption within the district.

According to the complaint, Rafferty was denied access to his own department’s budget and was verbally attacked and threatened because he was white.

“The blatant racism my client was subjected to . . . it shouldn’t be happening. It’s just wrong,” said Jonathan A. Tand, of Westbury-based Tand & Associates, who is representing Rafferty.

Rafferty worked for the district as director of facilities from July 2016 until he was fired in December 2016. He supervised about 75 employees, all African-American and Hispanic, with the exception of two white secretaries who worked in his office, according to the complaint.

The complaint names the district, its board, former district Superintendent Fadhilika Atiba-Weza, current district interim Superintendent Regina Armstrong, former board member Betty Cross and associate superintendent for human resources, Rodney Gilmore.

Jonathan Scher, an attorney for the district, and Gotham Government Relations and Communications, the public relations firm representing the district and school board, declined to comment.

Cross could not be reached for comment and Gilmore did not return requests for comment. Atiba-Weza and Armstrong, who then served as associate superintendent for elementary curriculum and instruction, declined to comment.

In the complaint, Rafferty described being asked to do personal favors for Cross during that time period even though she was no longer a member of the school board. In his complaint, Rafferty alleged Cross still wielded power in the district because of her more than 30 years on the board.

The complaint states that Rafferty was retaliated against because he “refused to accommodate Betty Cross’s inappropriate requests to use district resources for personal gain,” and for “discussing various illicit financial activities transpiring within the school district.”

In Rafferty’s complaint, he also alleges having employees who were not qualified to be in their positions. He also claims to have been denied by administrators the authority to terminate employees who violated district policies, according to the complaint.

Rafferty said in the complaint he was verbally attacked at district cabinet meetings, and was falsely accused of not filing state-mandated safety inspection reports.

During three cabinet meetings, according to the complaint, Rafferty said he was directed to sit on one side of a conference table while only African-American district officials and other invitees sat on the opposite side. Rafferty said he felt under attack at these meetings because district officials would accuse him of failing to perform his duties, saying that as a result, “minority children” were placed in danger, according to the complaint. Atiba-Weza, the superintendent at the time, told him to “shut up,” and said, “if you speak again, I will fire you,” according to the complaint.

Rafferty further alleges fiscal wrongdoing within the district, such as discovering hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of invoices from vendors and contractors that the district failed to pay. He also described being asked to sign off on jobs and supplies before he started working for the district.

Rafferty requested a trial by jury and is asking the court for compensation for emotional, psychological and punitive damages, as well as for the expungement of all unfavorable documentation in his personnel file. His claim also calls for the barring of Cross from any official or unofficial involvement in the district.

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