Superintendent files discrimination lawsuit against town, School Committee

Jan 14, 2021

Wareham Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kimberly Shaver-Hood has filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the Town of Wareham and the School Committee as well as individual committee members. She is requesting financial compensation and restitution for “emotional distress and mental anguish.” 

The lawsuit singles out committee members Michael Flaherty, Apryl Rossi and Mary Morgan as individual defendants. 

Shaver-Hood, a 64-year-old lesbian, alleged in a 15-page complaint filed with the Plymouth Superior Court that the defendants engaged in “discrimination based on her gender, sexual orientation, age, and protected activity.”

Protected activity means a person is legally protected when filing a discrimination complaint, and should not fear of additional discrimination as a result of the complaint. 

The lawsuit is not the first discrimination complaint filed by Shaver-Hood: She first complained to the town in November 2019, and filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination on June 22, 2020. Those complaints are not publicly available.

According to a complaint filed with Plymouth Superior Court, the town’s investigation concluded with a June 29, 2020, report that found “there is insufficient credible evidence to find that members of the School Committee violated WPS’s Discriminatory Harassment Policy.”

Shaver-Hood, who has been Wareham Public Schools’ superintendent since 2013, pointed to a 2019 negative performance evaluation as evidence of discrimination. The complaint notes that her prior evaluations were “favorable” and qualified her for raises. 

The complaint alleges that Flaherty, Morgan and Rossi “engaged in coordination and collaboration” while completing their 2019 evaluation of Shaver-Hood’s performance and “ignored the objective facts and evidence demonstrating Dr. Shaver-Hood’s proficiency and instead relied on untruths and inaccuracies.” 

When Flaherty, Morgan and Rossi’s scores were factored into Shaver-Hood’s evaluation, she was given an overall score of 76.83, putting her in the “needs improvement” category.

This score made her ineligible for a raise or for an automatic one-year extension of her contract — impacts that the complaint describes as “adverse employment actions which put Dr. Shaver-Hood at a material disadvantage.” The complaint argues that the trio’s negative evaluations were caused by their “animus” toward Shaver-Hood’s gender, sexual orientation, or age.

Her salary at the time was $166,416.

At a Dec. 19, 2019, School Committee meeting, Shaver-Hood described the evaluation as a “mean-spirited, personal attack.” She countered claims that her management style was hostile by quoting a report by an investigator, who looked into “a personnel issue”: “the allegations of unlawful conduct and policy violations” were “unsubstantiated.”

The complaint Shaver-Hood filed with the court also alleges that Flaherty, Rossi and Morgan engaged in communications amongst themselves and with others that indicated “a hostility toward Dr. Shaver-Hood” based on her gender, age and/or sexual orientation:

• In September 2019, Rossi participated in a text exchange in which a town employee referred to Shaver-Hood as “shaverbush,” and “Rossi’s text in reply contained no effort to discourage the discriminatory slur.” Instead, “Rossi’s text reply [...] ended with ‘haha.’”

• Rossi has a “history of criticizing” how Shaver-Hood communicates with parents, “referring to her methods as ‘traditional,’” which has “propagated the myth that Dr. Shaver-Hood needed her (Rossi’s) help in order to communicate with parent[s] through social media.”

• Flaherty treated Shaver-Hood “differently than he treated males,” including making “demeaning demands” of Shaver-Hood. Flaherty “required [Shaver-Hood] to be at his beck and call, treating her as his personal ‘gopher,’” and “conducted himself as though oblivious to the fact that Dr. Shaver-Hood had/has a doctorate in education leadership.” 

• The defendants’ decision to look into an anonymous letter the School Committee received in February 2020 — which accused Shaver-Hood of “bullying” — was motivated by their “discriminatory animus,” as the letter itself lacked credibility. 

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges Morgan and Rossi committed “acts of defamation” against Shaver-Hood outside the scope of their duties as School Committee members. 

The complaint alleges Morgan and Rossi: 

“Defamed Dr. Shaver-Hood in text messages, falsely accusing Dr. Shaver-Hood of lying (e.g., ‘bullsh*t,’ ‘her lies,’ ‘that’s shady,’ ‘she’s hiding stuff,’ ‘another lie’); accusing her of financial improprieties (e.g. ‘Kathleen: Please keep on the outside audit. I’ve been saying since she came. Where does the money go? A. Rossi: I wonder the same.’); and labelling her a ‘control freak’ and a ‘psychopath.’”

The complaint also alleges Morgan and Rossi made false statements regarding Shaver-Hood in their 2019 written evaluations of Shaver-Hood.

Several excerpts from Morgan and Rossi’s evaluations are included in the complaint. They questioned Shaver-Hood’s management of finances, practices related to surveying parents whose children had left the district, and commitment to asbestos remediation at the Middle School.

Morgan and Rossi’s statements — seemingly both outside of and within their official duties — caused Shaver-Hood “economic loss, mental anguish, and emotional distress,” according to the complaint. As a result, the complaint argues Shaver-Hood is entitled to “public apologies and retractions and substantial monetary damages” from Rossi and Morgan.

Additionally, Shaver-Hood requests “back pay, front pay, lost benefits, damages for emotional distress and mental anguish, other compensatory damages, punitive damages and consequential damages, special damages, accrued interest, as well as attorney’s fees and costs,” and any other relief the court deems “just and proper.”

Shaver-Hood, Flaherty and Morgan did not immediately respond to requests for comment, while Rossi said that she is not allowed to discuss current litigation. Chair of the Board of Selectman Peter Teitelbaum had no comment, but noted that the litigation is on the board’s agenda for a Jan. 19 executive session because the town is named as a party in the lawsuit.