Norwalk Board of Ed, Bruce Morris continue to spar over lawsuit
NORWALK — A motion filed Friday by a Board of Education lawyer says Bruce Morris’ claims of discrimination and retaliatory behavior by the board, the school district and the city are speculative, “political fantasy” and based Morris’ “imperceptive self-aggrandizement.”
The response came after a request in late April from Morris’ attorney, Daniel T. Angelone, of Trumbull-based Angelone Law Offices, for the case to be heard in court. The lawsuit, prompted by Morris’ 2016 firing by the school distruct, was filed in Stamford Superior Court in July 2017. The board’s attorney, Dennis Dauro, of Rocky Hill-based Karsten & Tallberg Attorneys at Law, filed a motion for summary judgment May 10, asking for a judgment without trial.
The filing by Duaro on Friday begins: “... at its most fundamental level, plaintiff’s argument amounts to naked speculation about a purported years-long conspiracy by the BOE to terminate plaintiff’s employment, but this unsupported political fantasy is the product of plaintiff’s imperceptive self-aggrandizement.” The motion goes on to state that Morris has provided insufficient evidence and based his complaints on “private” emails taken out of context and “cobbled together” in a self-serving manner.
Specifically, Morris’ attorney points to a series of emails sent between Board of Education members and, in some instances, central office staff, which he says are proof of conspiratorial and discriminatory behavior on behalf of the board toward Morris. In them, Morris is referred to as one of the “Four Horsemen” — along with Lynne Moore, who was reassigned from her position as principal at West Rocks School to a housemaster at Norwalk High, Tony Ditrio, the former Kendall Elementary principal who retired in 2016, and former Deputy Superintendent of Schools Anthony Daddona, who retired in 2015 — and as a “snake,” by former Board of Education Chairman and current member Mike Lyons.
One email, dated Feb. 2, 2015, was sent by former Norwalk Public Schools Chief Business and Finance Officer Richard Rudl, is one of several that addresses a budget shortfall that year and ways in which to make up costs.
Rudl, addressing Lyons and Board of Education member Mike Barbis, suggests that the board could recommend a district-wide clerical reorganization to save money.
“That could be used to ‘reconcile’ out positions you want to remove like Bruce and maybe others to fund changes which primarily would be used to help the schools,” Rudl said.
A second was sent by Lyons to former board member Artie Kassimis and current board members Heidi Keyes, Mike Barbis and Bryan Meek, on June 24, 2015, a little more than a year before Morris’ position as school climate coordinator was eliminated, with the subject line “Budget.” The email references cuts in excess of $200,000 that the board needed to make and lists a series of possible cost-saving measures.
“Top of the list? Bruce Morris; saves over $80K and solves the budget problem. I ran that possibility past Adamowski and he asked that we not do that. He fully understands what a snake Morris is, but having been appointed a racial vote, he doesn’t want a race war starting up over Morris just as he’s taking office,” Lyons wrote, referring to the five-to-four vote along racial lines to approve the hiring of Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski earlier that month. “But better to leave this to Adamowski, who can build a solid record on Bruce, than for us to lay him off and have protests from now to election day.”
In another email thread between Lyons, Barbis and Meek, dated June 23, 2015, with the subject line “Re: Dalio news,” the trio discusses grant money pulled from the district by the Dalio Foundation. Addressing the others, Barbis apologizes for announcing the loss of funding at a Democratic Town Committee (DTC) meeting the night prior.
“I was trying to lay the ground work for potentially terminating funding for Morris’ position ... so as part of an update on the Board of Ed, I did review the fact that some painful budget cuts were going to have to take place ...” Barbis continued.
In a fourth email, sent Jan. 15, 2016, referencing the upcoming year’s proposed Board of Education budget, Lyons wrote to Barbis, Keyes, Kassimis and Meek, “Here it is(.) Bye Byce Brucie! Morris and his assistant’s positions are elminated in this budget.”
In the documents filed Friday, the board’s attorney argues that the former Board of Education chairman’s statements do not constitute discrimination in part because he was not the “ultimate decisionmaker” in regards to Morris’ employment and, thus, an “inferential step is required to conclude” that Lyons’ words influenced Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski’s decision.
The defendants allege that questions about Morris’ work habits were often raised and that there was speculation the former state representative was performing his legislative duties on school time. They also state that the elimination of Morris’ position was driven by budgetary factors. He was one of 24 school employees laid off in the budget cycle, and his was one of three central office positions cut — the other two were held by white employees — according to the document.
Dauro states it was not a conspiracy to terminate Morris, but the result of an organizational shift in a tight-budget year that resulted in the elimination of the position by Adamowski, not the Board of Education. As for Lyons, Dauro states he was acting with the good of the district in mind.
“Even if tartly put, Lyons was merely prioritizing the District’s best interests above those of a select few,” Duaro wrote.
Arguments on the request for summary judgment will be heard at Stamford Superior Court on June 3.
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