Baldwin Middle School dean to sueAlleges she was sexually harassed
The dean, Cheryl Farb, said that she has been on administrative reassignment since May 14, and that the district has recommended to the Board of Education that she be terminated.
Farb said that she is planning to file a lawsuit against the Baldwin School District, a process already in the works after she filed a notice of claim against the district in January and notified the New York State Division of Human Rights in April, claiming that she was sexually harassed, defamed and forced to work in a hostile work environment at the middle school between June 2003 and January 2004.
Though Farb has yet to be terminated, administrators have been tight-lipped about the issue. "We really do not comment on any personnel matters in public," said Deputy Superintendent for Administration Lee Chapman.
Farb has hired an attorney, Thomas Liotti, who most recently represented the coaches involved in the Mepham High School football sex-abuse scandal.
Farb would not provide details of the alleged harassment, and said only that sexual comments and innuendo were directed at her in the workplace for months in addition to other inappropriate conduct which, she said, has severely impacted her life.
"This is my career," said Farb. "But just because I'm afraid, it doesn't mean I'm going to keep silent."
Farb, 44, came to the middle school in July 2002, one of two new deans who were hired at the school that year. Farb was well liked and seemed "down to earth," said one parent who wished to remain anonymous.
During her first year, Farb said, things were great. She played a major role in building and re-organizing the dean's office, she said. She not only disciplined students, she said, but, ironically, also served as a student-to-student sexual harassment officer, handling complaints by students. Farb said her year-end evaluation in 2003 was solid.
"I created an office," said Farb. "I walked into that building every day saying, 'I love this job.'"
But shortly before June 2003, the workplace started to become extremely uncomfortable, she said, after inappropriate sexual comments were made. "That wasn't the first sense I had that something was off," Farb said. "I was feeling a lot of stress and tension that shouldn't have been."
It came to a point, she said, where she dreaded going to work and became depressed, and the situation at work affected her personal life. But she was too scared to speak out on the issue initially, she said.
"I'm trying to teach these kids all of this stuff," said Farb, referring to her role in assisting students with sexual-harassment complaints. "But here I am being a hypocrite."
Instead of quitting, Farb said she decided to seek help. "I told her, if you're not going to quit, you need to report it," said her husband, Harold Newman, an attorney in Great Neck.
When her situation worsened, said Farb, she went to her union for advice. She said she was told the union could not intervene.
Farb said she then went to the district, where she filled out a complaint, and was told by Chapman that the district would investigate the matter. After she complained, said Farb, her work environment became worse. She began seeing a therapist and experienced anxiety, she said. "I kept trying to be professional," said Farb.
While the district was investigating, said Farb, she hired Liotti, and filed a notice of complaint claiming not only sexual harassment, but also a hostile work environment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of civil rights.
About a month after the district began its investigation, Farb said she was told that her claims were unsubstantiated. Around the same time, she said, her mid-year evaluation in 2004 was poor.
"People said things about me that weren't true," said Farb, though she wouldn't provide many details.
In May, Farb said, she was asked by the district to resign or else it would begin termination proceedings. Farb refused. "Why do I have to resign?" she said. "I didn't do anything wrong."
On May 14, Farb said, she was told by the district to leave the middle school premises and also that she would be reassigned while the termination process began. She was told to pack her belongings and leave. "It was disgusting," said Farb. "I was told that I'm not permitted on school grounds."
She explained that she was notified by School Superintendent Kathy Weiss in May that the district is recommending to the Board of Education that she be terminated, and that her status as an employee will be decided by the board at its June 9 meeting.
School Board President James Scannell explained that the district and the Board of Education are legally prohibited from discussing individual personnel and legal matters.
Farb said that she is writing an appeal to the board, and added that she will not settle the lawsuit once it is filed. "It's not a matter of winning or losing," she said. "It's getting the truth out there."
While Farb's job status is still in limbo, she said she has received numerous calls from teachers, parents and students supporting her and asking when she'll return. "One student cried and asked, 'Where are you going?'" said Farb. "I told her I'm just going on vacation for a little while."