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Former Norwalk schools administrator demoted due to illness, lawsuit states
New Haven Register - 9/27/2022
Sep. 27—NORWALK — A hearing will be held Tuesday in lawsuit filed by a former administrator for the city's public schools who claims the district and Superintendent Alexandra Estrella violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Frank Costanzo, former chief of operations for Norwalk Public Schools, claims in the lawsuit that he faced discrimination after revealing he had stage 3 polycystic kidney disease.
Costanzo's lawyer, Jeffrey S. Bagnell, and the school district declined to comment about the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, filed in April in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut, Costanzo claims he was discriminated, retaliated against and demoted "due to a serious physical disability."
In July 2019, Costanzo began taking the medication Tolvaptan, which has side effects that include having to frequently use the bathroom, according to the complaint.
In July 2020, Costanzo said he disclosed his condition to Estrella, who had recently been hired as the district's superintendent, but did not ask for accommodations, the lawsuit stated.
"As NPS entered into 2021, Estrella grew more irritated with Costanzo leaving meetings (in-person or remote) to use the restroom," the lawsuit stated. "She would disconnect Costanzo from Zoom meetings ... and harangue him despite being fully aware of his disability."
In April 2021, Costanzo said he received an email that his contract would not be renewed for the following school year, according to the lawsuit.
Following a reorganization of the district's central office, Costanzo said he was given two options: Accept a separation agreement or become a classroom teacher for the 2021-22 school year, the lawsuit stated.
"Costanzo informed the NPS Human Resources director that he was a victim of employee discrimination and retaliation on April 28, 2021 and expressly requested accommodations for his disability in writing," the lawsuit stated.
Costanzo was also notified in May 2021 that his salary would be cut in half to $100,000 for the next school year, the lawsuit stated. In the new role as associate education administrator for school-based instructional support, Costanzo was assigned to "support instruction in history, social sciences, and the arts," the lawsuit stated.
According to the complaint, Estrella selected Norwalk High School Assistant Principal Lynne Moore to supervise Costanzo for the 2021-22 school year.
"Moore had pending litigation against the Board of Education in which Costanzo was a named defendant," the lawsuit stated. "His evaluation of her performance as a principal in 2017 was a matter that went to arbitration. The arbitrator ruled that Costanzo had not violated any established procedures of the evaluation plan."
According to the complaint, Costanzo submitted his "involuntary resignation" as of Jan. 7, 2022.
Costanzo claims in the lawsuit that NPS is the cause of "substantial economic and non-economic damages to the plaintiff, including lost past and future wages and lost past and future benefits in excess of $3 million through his normal retirement age." He further claims that the school district only reduced his compensation due to his "medical condition, record of physical impairment, and his complaints about how he was being illegally discriminated against," the lawsuit stated.
In 2017, Costanzo was accused of sexual harrasment in a federal lawsuit filed against the New Haven Board of Education where he previously served as chief operating officer for its city's public schools. According to court documents, New Haven settled the lawsuit in 2019 for $150,000.
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