Newburgh educators file harassment lawsuit

Posted 5/11/22

Two veteran Newburgh educators filed a workplace harassment and retaliation lawsuit with the New York State Supreme Court of Orange County Tuesday, naming former Superintendent Roberto Padilla, the …

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Newburgh educators file harassment lawsuit

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Two veteran Newburgh educators filed a workplace harassment and retaliation lawsuit with the New York State Supreme Court of Orange County Tuesday, naming former Superintendent Roberto Padilla, the Newburgh City School District and the Newburgh City School Board as defendants.

The complaint, filed ahead of a public Newburgh School Board budget meeting Tuesday evening, reads, “this action is brought to remedy discrimination on the basis of sex in the terms and conditions of employment, and retaliation for opposition to unlawful employment practices, in violation of the New York State Human Rights Law.”

The lawsuit is being filed by Una Miller, former Principal at GAMS Tech Elementary School, and Elizabeth Walsh, former classroom English teacher at Newburgh Free Academy Main Campus. Both proud and committed members of the Newburgh School District, the complaint outlines harassment and subsequent retaliation on the part of the defendants that forced Miller and Walsh to leave their positions.

Their complaint reads, “[Miller and Walsh] were sexually harassed by Superintendent Roberto Padilla during the night of August 10, 2021 [...] Newburgh investigated Plaintiffs’ claims and determined that Defendant Padilla had violated the law in his harassment of Plaintiffs. Despite these findings, Defendant Padilla was given the opportunity to resign while continuing to receive his salary and health insurance benefits for two years.”

“In contrast, both Plaintiffs had their names leaked to the media, and were retaliated against at work, creating intolerable situations forcing them both to resign,” the lawsuit states. The plaintiffs are supported by the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund and represented by Alex Berke of Berke-Weiss Law PLLC.

Miller and Walsh issued a joint statement upon the lawsuit filing: “Newburgh students and parents need strong, committed educators more than ever. But while we gave students our all, the Newburgh School Board and School District didn’t have our backs. They failed to support the educators that are vital to Newburgh’s ongoing recovery from Covid-19 and sent a chilling message to women throughout the district. We’re speaking out about our experiences to help build a safer culture for Newburgh educators and ensure this never happens again. As mothers, women, and educators, we know this is the right thing to do in order to enact meaningful change.”

Miller and Walsh’s experiences, and the subsequent lawsuit filing, have happened as students and districts across the nation have struggled to return to school buildings and make up for lost time during the 2020-2021 school years. Recent studies show COVID-19’s impact on education include increased mental health challenges, higher rates of violence, concerns about lost instructional time, and higher rates of absenteeism among teens.

“In workplaces across the country, survivors routinely experience retaliation after reporting allegations of sexual harassment or abuse—and all too often, this results in careers being destroyed,” said Jennifer Mondino, Director of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. “Throughout the global pandemic, students and their families have been relying more than ever on veteran educators like Ms. Miller and Ms. Walsh. We are proud to support these educational leaders as they bravely seek accountability and justice.”

The Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is providing legal and communications support to this case. Since the fund was established in 2018, it has received close to 6,000 requests from survivors seeking legal help for sexual harassment in the workplace.

The Mid Hudson Times reached out to the Newburgh School Administration Tuesday for comment on the lawsuit. Neither the district, not its attorney responded.

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