Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Shaunte Penniston Sues P.S. 15Q Principal Antonio K'Tori in Federal Court For Sexual Harassment and NYC DOE For Failure To Protect Her


 NEW YORK, NY, August 12, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ --
New York City teacher, Shaunte Penniston filed a suit on June 24, 2013, against the New York City Department of Education and Antonio K'Tori, Principal at P.S. 15Q. Case number is 13-CV-3572 within the Eastern District. According to the claim filed, Ms. Penniston has allegedly endured not only sexual advances and discrimination at her job but also the negative retaliation of Mr. K'Tori after rebuffing him and filing complaints with the New York City Department of Education regarding what we allege was inappropriate conduct.

Ms. Penniston claims she has been harassed by Mr. K'Tori since before her first day of school. The principal allegedly flirted with Ms. Penniston while she was setting up her classroom. Things had already escalated by the first day of school when Mr. K'Tori allegedly told Penniston that she was pretty and asked a male student if he agreed with that opinion. Continuing the onslaught of unwanted attention in February 2012, K'Tori allegedly told Penniston that she could not maintain a social life because she would be spending all her time with him after school and on weekends. He also allegedly stated that he had the power to make Ms. Penniston's time at P.S. 15Q "miserable" but that she would be fine if she did what she was "supposed to do." According to her filed claim, Penniston allegedly rebuffed his advance and Mr. K'Tori allegedly began a pattern of retaliatory behavior.

While Ms. Penniston has reached out to the New York City Department of Education, the UFT, and the New York City Office of Equal Opportunity to help her address these allegations of harassment and retaliation, none of these organizations has been able to give Ms. Penniston respite and The Department of Education has allegedly denied her a transfer, effectively requiring her to work in what we allege as a hostile work environment. Once Mr. K'Tori was informed of Penniston's complaints, he allegedly proceeded to retaliate even more, causing Ms. Penniston considerable discomfort in her position at the school, and routinely subjecting her to disciplinary meetings. He allegedly went so far as to engage other school professionals to lie about Ms. Penniston so he could create negative notes in her permanent record. Ms. Penniston now has numerous erroneous complaints logged in her permanent record. As of June 25, 2013, Ms. Penniston was terminated from the school. Mr. K'Tori cited causes of termination that Ms. Penniston alleges to be false and allegedly in direct retaliation against Ms. Penniston's avoidance of his advances.

"Ms. Penniston has faced unfair treatment at the hand of Mr. K'Tori and the New York City Department of Education, and we are seeking to solve this problem once and for all," says Ms. Penniston's attorney 
Thomas Ricotta, partner at White, Ricotta & Marks, P.C. "She deserves to work in a safe environment, free from unwanted advances and unwarranted retaliation. Mr. K'Tori and the Department of Education have continued to subject Ms. Penniston to a hostile work environment and we intend to help her free herself from this caustic environment."
By Yoav Gonen, October 8, 2012 | 4:00am
Queens teacher has accused her boss, a veteran principal, of sexually harassing her on the job, The Post has learned.
PS15 chief Antonio K’Tori — whom the Department of Education blasted as “arrogant” and “self-centered” when it unsuccessfully tried to fire him years ago — was accused of making inappropriate advances toward Shaunte Penniston, according to a complaint the 30-year-old teacher filed with the state’s Division of Human Rights last month.
In the complaint, Penniston said her new boss called her “pretty” and applauded her pending divorce and demanded that she abandon her social life to work late nights and weekends with him since she came to the Springville Gardens school in February. She claims that when she told him she couldn’t attend an evening school function because of prior obligations, K’Tori insisted, “Whatever little black dress you were going to wear to that event, you need to wear to mine.”
Penniston alleges that because she wouldn’t succumb to his advances, she was given two negative ratings without ever being observed in the classroom.
K’Tori , who works long hours and has been both celebrated and criticized for his work heading up three public schools since 1996, initially told The Post he was “unaware” of the recent claim against him.He then said he had been asked not to comment but that he had heard about the complaint. “I work at a job where people like to say and do many things,” he said by phone.





-against-                                                                      COMPLAINT


THE CITY OF NEW YORK, DEPARTMENT OF                        Jury Trial Demanded EDUCATION and ANTONIO K'TORI (individually

and in his official capacities),



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - X


Plaintiff, SHAUNTE PENNISTON, by and through her attorneys, WHITE, RICOTTA & MARKS, P.C., complaining of Defendants herein, alleges, upon knowledge as to herself and her own actions, and upon information and belief as to all other matters, as follows:




1.                  This action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to redress the discrimination against Plaintiff in the terms, conditions, and privileges of her employment, as well as the deprivation by Defendants, under the policies, ordinances, custom and usage of all rights, privileges and immunities secured to Plaintiff by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and all of the laws and statutes thereunder. This action also arises under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000-e, et seq.; the New York State Executive Law, Human Rights Law, Section 290 et seq.; the New York City Administrative Code § 8-101 et seq., and any other cause of action which can be inferred from the facts set forth herein.

Additionally, K'Tori is a policymaker for the DOE, charged with the responsibility of insuring that employees are not subjected to discriminatory and/or retaliatory practices. K'Tori had the power to make personnel decisions regarding Plaintiff's employment. K'Tori is employed by the Department of Education and New York City, New York.




8.                    On February 27, 2012, Penniston began working for the DOE as a Special Education Teacher in P.S. 15Q, The Jackie Robinson School ("PS 15").


9.                   Prior to commencement of her first year at PS 15, Penniston was subjected to sexual harassment at the hands of Defendant K'Tori.


10.                Specifically, while Penniston was setting up her classroom the week before classes started, K'Tori, having known that Penniston had previously been married, entered her classroom and asked in a flirtatious tone if Shaunte was ever planning to get married again.


11.                 On February 27, 2012, the first day of school, K'Tori told Penniston that she was pretty and asked a male student if he agreed with that opinion. In February 2012, K'Tori told Penniston that she could not maintain a social life because she would be spending all her time with him after school and on weekends. He also stated that he had the power to make Penniston's time at PS 15 "miserable" but that she would be fine if she did what she was "supposed to do." She rebuffed his advances and

K'Tori began a pattern of retaliatory behavior.

12.                 On several occasions K'Tori escalated his harassment of Penniston. On one occasion in June 2012, K'Tori threw paper at her. On another, in March 2012, K'Tori told her, in the presence of Renee Holstein (Coach/Mentor/Lead Instructional Specialist/ Administrative Intern) and Eileen Truzzolino (Guidance Counselor), that Penniston has no power because she is a woman and that he had all the power because he is a man.


13.                Throughout the 2011-2012 school year, Penniston was never formally observed by K'Tori; however, at the end of the year, K'Tori issued her a "D" or "doubtful" rating, and stated that she did not know how to teach. Although Penniston attempted to appeal the rating, the UFT instructed her it would be futile given the fact that she was not tenured. K'Tori further stated that Penniston should be fired on the spot but that he would allow her to return the following year to "prove [her] self to [him] ."


14.                On June 26, 2012, Penniston complained to Joyce Schwartz (District 29 Representative of UFT) ("Schwartz") about K'Tori's sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.


15.                On July 23, 2012, Penniston complained about the harassment to Lenon Murray (Superintendent) ("Murray"). That same day, Penniston also filed an official complaint with the New York City Office of Equal Opportunity ("0E0"). To date, Pennsiton has not received a response from 0E0 and has not been removed from the hostile work environment which she has been subjected to by K'Tori.
16.                On August 28, 2012, Penniston received a text message from another teacher at PS 15, Joy Peters ("Peters"). In the message, Peters stated that there was a rumor she had filed a complaint against K'Tori and warned her that K'Tori would "get back at [her]."


17.                On August 30, 2012, Penniston met with Schwartz, Rona Freiser (Director of UFT Queens office) ("Freiser"), and Sharon Ripley (UFT Special Representative) ("Ripley"). Schwartz, Freiser and Ripley all agreed that Penniston was K'Tori's "type" because she was "African-American, beautiful, with a big bottom." Penniston expressed that she was concerned about her safety if she returned to PS 15 the following year and requested to be transferred to another school. Freiser stepped out of the room to make a phone call and upon returning informed Penniston that her request was denied.


18.                 On September 4, 2012, K'Tori finally provided Penniston with her grade assignment. Notably, this was only two days before classes started for the 2012-2013 school year. This was done in retaliation for Penniston's complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination. Other teachers who had not complained about sexual harassment and discrimination were provided their grade assignments much earlier in the summer, such as August 27, 2012.


19.                Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year, Penniston has been treated differently than her similarly situated counterparts who have not complained of sexual harassment and discrimination. Specifically, Penniston has been excluded from grade meetings and has not been provided with the necessary curriculum and students resource lesson plans. Teachers who have not complained of sexual harassment and discrimination have not been excluded from grade meetings and have timely received their curriculum essentials.


20.                On September 14, 2012, Eddie DeBerry (Building Response Team) ("DeBerry"), Ross Pryce (Paraprofessional) ("Pryce"), Eva Holmes-LaGrier (IEP teacher and UFT Chapter Leader) ("LaGrier"), and Tenyqua Babbs (Mentor) ("Babbs") walked into Penniston's classroom unannounced while she was teaching a lesson. DeBerry and Pryce instructed Penniston's students to pack up their things and Penniston was ordered to immediately leave the classroom. Thereafter, Penniston was escorted to K'Tori's office and received two disciplinary letters for her professional file. This was done in retaliation for her complaints of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.


? 1 . Additionally, at or around this time, Principal K'Tori removed the assigned paraprofessional Ross Pryce from Penniston's classroom and assigned him a new role as Administrator. This was done in for Penniston's complaints and with the desired goal of negatively impacting Penniston's ability to teach her class, in order to create a pretextual basis for disciplining and/or terminating Penniston's employment.


22.              On September 23, 2012, K'Tori demanded that Penniston hand in lesson plans two weeks in advance, and demanded "back-dated" lessons for the 2012/2013 school year. These requests were not made of similarly situated teachers who had not rejected K'Tori's advances and/or complained about the sexual harassment to which they were subjected at the hands of K'Tori. Moreover, these requests were made in violation of Penniston's rights per the collective bargaining agreement.


23.              On September 18, 2012, Penniston filed a formal complaint with the NYSDHR against the DOE for K'Tori's sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and retaliation.


24.              During a faculty meeting on or about October 1, 2012, K'Tori stated, "I will not be removed from my duties as Principal and any teacher who gets in the way will be dismissed from this business of educating children." K'Tori stared directly at Penniston while making this statement in the presence of the entire teaching staff.


25.              On or about October 2, 2012 to present, K'Tori has consistently and regularly instructed Renee Holstein and Eva LeGrier to observe Penniston's classroom three

(3) times a week and to debrief with Penniston three (3) times a week during Penniston's preparation periods. These observations done by these two teachers continue to interfere with the teaching and learning within Penniston's classroom, and are done in contravention of the collective bargaining agreement, and in retaliation for Penniston's protected activities, as Penniston's similarly situated coworkers who have not complained about K'Tori's sexual harassment, have not similarly been bombarded with "observations."


26.              Moreover, Ms. Holstein has interrupted instruction within Penniston's class on several occasions by asking questions during instruction and has even requested things of Penniston while teaching, further interrupting and undermining Penniston's instruction within Penniston's special education class.


27.              Despite several conversations with Ms. Holstein in which Penniston requested that she and Ms. LeGrier do not interfere with instruction, Penniston has continued, to date, to have several retaliatory observations per week.


28.              On October 3, 2012, Penniston received a phone call from Lisa Atchinson (Aide) ("Atchinson") at 5:21 p.m. stated that DeBerry called her and asked about the fight Penniston's student had with another student as well as asking her twice if Penniston was on time to the cafeteria to pick up her class. Atchinson felt coerced to say Penniston was late picking up students from the cafeteria.


29.              On October 5, 2012, Penniston received disciplinary letter for her file for simply alerting K'Tori of a fight between two students.


30.              On October 8, 2012, the New York Post published an article entitled "Boss 'hot for teacher', which described K'Tori's harassment of Penniston.


31.              LaGrier continued to write negative reviews in Penniston's observation debriefs. On October 9, 2012, LaGrier gave Penniston feedback on a Social Studies lesson saying Penniston was angry and hostile to children. When Penniston asked for specific evidence, LaGrier did not provide any.
32.              On or about October 9, 2012, K'Tori attempted to coerce custodian Michael DeFreitas to provide testimony that Penniston was at fault for an incident that had occurred, and for which she was not at fault relating to a student.


33.              On October 14, 2012, LaGrier opened Penniston's classroom, while she was administering an exam, holding the arm of a student ("student"). She walked the student in and said the student "is being switched to your room." After LaGrier left and the new student acted disruptive, Penniston asked LaGrier to pick up the student so that she could properly administer the exam. LaGrier refused and immediately brought in a desk, dragging it on the floor further disrupting Penniston's exam.


34.              Penniston has been increasingly isolated from her co-workers as further retaliation for her complaint. On October 15, 2012, Atchinson delivered school papers to her room. Afterwards, K'Tori asked Atchinson about her conversation with Penniston and that another colleague saw her by Penniston's classroom. She told K'Tori that she was doing school business and asked who had spoken with him. K'Tori stated, "People eyes are looking, people are watching. I don't want you up there anymore and I don't want you to bother anyone."

35.              On or about October 15, 2012, K'Tori fabricated letters for Penniston's file, falsle alleging that she authorized changes to student's classroom assignment during AIS/Extended Day time block. Despite telling the truth and providing a witness who spoke up on her behalf, Cheryl Collins, Special Education Teacher, K'Tori  proceeded to issue Penniston discipline and falsely allege that she engaged in misconduct.


36.              On October 16, 2012, LeGrier sent Penniston an email telling her to address all her concerns to Schwartz, the District 29 Representative of UFT. LeGrier's role as UFT Chapter Leader for PS 15 is to make sure that the UFT contract is enforced and upheld for teachers at all times. LeGrier told Penniston that she felt conflicted in handling any issues between Penniston and K'Tori because she was forced to act as a liaison for K'Tori through his disciplinary letters.


37.              On October 22, 2012, Myra Campbell-Ramsey (General Education Teacher) told Penniston that Holstein approached her and asked her to write down that Penniston did not do her part in drafting the assessment for the week and that it interfered with her Campbell-Ramsey's lesson. Campbell-Ramsey refused because the statement was not true.


38.              On November 2, 2012, Penniston and all faculty members reported to PS 15 after Hurricane Sandy. Students were not required to attend school that day. The teachers were not given an agenda and they were not told to prepare anything for their return. Upon arriving, Penniston met with K'Tori to go over her professional goals and objectives. However. because she did not receive prior notification of this meeting, Penniston did not bring in her prepared objectives and goals. K'Tori stated that he included her meeting date in the weekly newsletter, which Penniston had received that morning. Penniston had no prior knowledge of a schedule meeting and the newsletter K'Tori referred to was dated October 29, 2012, the day school was closed due to the hurricane. Penniston asked if she could submit her objectives and goals the following day. K'Tori said no and has not asked Penniston for her prepared objectives.


39.                 Penniston is repeatedly forced to attend unscheduled meetings with K'Tori addressing unsubstantiated disciplinary matters in further retaliation for her complaints. On November 20, 2012, Penniston was forced to attend a meeting with Truzzolini, DeBerry, LaGrier, Holstein and K'Tori. On previous occasions, including before this particular meeting, Penniston requested to have a UFT representative or a suitable alternate present in order to protect her rights or to postpone the meeting so that she could have a representation present. K'Tori told Penniston that she has no right to request different meeting times and that the meeting was not disciplinary in nature so she did not need representation. Penniston was then given two fabricated disciplinary letters that were included in her professional file.


40.                On or about November 28, 2012, Penniston gave recorded testimony to the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation regarding the consistent harassment and retaliation to which she was being subjected by K'Tori as a result of filing a complaint of sexual harassment against him. To date, Penniston has not been notified of any outcome of this investigation, nor has Defendant acted to prevent further harassment and retaliation at the hands of K'Tori.
41.                On or about November 29, 2012, Holstein, at the directive of K'Tori, presented Penniston with a fabricated disciplinary letter for her file and stated that he told her to prevent Penniston from leaving the room until she signed the letter, contrary to Penniston's rights as per the collective bargaining agreement. Penniston requested several times for Holstein to let Penniston leave her classroom, as it was after the end of the school day, and Holstein kept repeating that K'Tori directed her to force Penniston to sign the disciplinary letter and that Penniston was not to leave until doing so.


42.                Prior to complaining regarding K'Tori's harassment, Penniston had never received a letter for the file which is considered disciplinary in nature. After filing the complaint with 0E0 and the NYS Division of Human Rights, however, Penniston has received over thirty disciplinary letters, including approximately ten 48-hour notices of disciplinary conferences with K'Tori. Essentially, after Penniston's complaints, K'Tori has made it a regular practice to force Penniston to attend meetings with him of a disciplinary nature in an effort to further intimidate Penniston and/or get her to drop her complaints against him.


43.                On or about December 20, 2013, a male student in Penniston's special education classroom made a documented threat to another teacher regarding Penniston, stating that he wanted to stab Penniston and that he would bring a gun to school to shoot Penniston. When Penniston inquired with K'Tori as to the status of the situation, given the fact that a threat had been made on her life, K'Tori falsely alleged that Penniston fabricated the incident, despite witnesses to the contrary


(including the child's mother), and issued a disciplinary letter to her file. In addition to alleging she was fabricating this situation, within his discipline of Penniston, K'Tori documented his retaliatory motives by referencing that Penniston was "fabricating" other allegations referring to my complaint of sexual harassment, and would be disciplined further if this continued.


44.                On or about February 12, 2013, K'Tori denied Penniston's line of duty injury paperwork for an injury that she sustained while teaching her class, instead docking her pay for the time that she was out due to the line of duty injury. Similarly situated coworkers who had not complained about K'Tori's harassment and retaliation were granted line of duty injury status for injuries that were sustained on the job.


45.                On or about January 18, 2013, K'Tori and Holstein conducted yet another "informal observation" of Penniston, in which Holstein, at the direction of K'Tori, observed Penniston's lesson and interfered with her lesson by having conversations with students during instruction, and taking their notebooks and books away from them during instruction. Holstein then recorded fabricated information within her report that K'Tori used to deem Penniston's lesson as unsuccessful.


46.                On or about February 21, 2013, K'Tori, in the presence of Joyce Schwartz, District 29th union representative, stated that Penniston did not "have the right to say that [Penniston was] being harassed verbally or in writing." He also stated that he has the right to inquire about Penniston's personal life because "it is his right to know."

47.                 To date, despite being on notice of Penniston's allegations of sexual harassment by K'Tori against her, the DOE has not acted to transfer her (or him), thus causing Penniston to remain in contact and under the supervision of her harasser. This has directly resulted in further retaliation and the creation of a hostile work environment.


48.                 Such and similar harassment continues to the present date. Upon information and belief, this treatment is in an effort to undermine Penniston's ability to teach effectively, thereby justifying her termination.





49.                Plaintiff has been subjected to a hostile work environment, and/or adverse employment actions, as well as an atmosphere of adverse employment actions based on her sex/gender and/or in retaliation for her opposition to discriminatory practices. Defendant DOE's actions are in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000-e, et seq.; the New York State Executive Law, the Human Rights Law, §290, et seq.; and the New York City Administrative Code

§ 8-101 et seq.



50.                Defendant DOE has, while acting under color of state law, deprived Plaintiff of her constitutional rights, as secured by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and all related provisions of the New York State Constitution. The DOE and the DOE's supervisors have intentionally 
committed, condoned or were deliberately indifferent to the aforementioned violations of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Such deliberate indifference may be inferred in the following ways:


a.                    The DOE's custom or practice of discriminating against and/or harassing Plaintiff based on her sex/gender. The discriminatory and retaliatory practices were so persistent and widespread that they constitute the constructive acquiescence of policymakers.


b.                    Supervisors failed to properly investigate and address allegations of harassment and/or discrimination.


c.                    Inadequate training/supervision was so likely to result in the harassment, and/or discrimination that policymakers can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need to provide better training and supervision.


d.                    Policymakers engaged in and/or tacitly condoned the harassment and/or discrimination.



47.                The individual Defendants unlawfully participated in and/or permitted the aforementioned unlawful conduct to perpetuate, without abatement, in violation of Plaintiffs constitutional and statutory rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.


48.                The individual Defendants, aided, abetted, incited, compelled and/or coerced the aforementioned unlawful conduct in violation of New York State Executive Law, Human Rights Law § 296(6) and the New York City Administrative Code § 8-107.


49.                By reason of Defendants' violation of Plaintiff's rights, Plaintiff has suffered a loss of monetary benefits associated with her employment, in addition to suffering physical, emotional and other damages.

WHEREFORE, Plaintiff demands judgment against Defendants for all compensatory, emotional, physical, and punitive damages (against the individual defendant only), lost pay, front pay, injunctive relief, and any other damages permitted by law. It is further requested that this Court grant reasonable attorneys' fees and the costs and disbursements of this action and any other relief to which Plaintiff is entitled. Plaintiff demands a trial by jury.
Dated: Jackson Heights, New York June 24, 2013