Teacher claims offensive, sexist behavior from superior ignored by admin

Springs School Harassment Hearing Held




Independent/T. E. McMorrow

As parents in Springs readied their children to return to school, a hearing on charges that the school allowed a male supervisor to harass a female employee, then took punitive action against her when she registered a complaint, was being held in a courtroom at the New York State Department of Human Rights office in Hauppauge, starting on Monday, August 26.

The substitute teacher and former office worker at the school, Dianne Mehrhoff, the alleged victim, was the first to testify. She reiterated what she had told The Independent earlier this year, that in February 2016, she took on an additional job as a part-time clerk-typist for the school, on top of her substitute teaching duties.

In July 2017, Michael Henery was hired as a business administrator for Springs School, making him Mehrhoff’s second-level supervisor. She told Administrative Law Judge Robert Vespoli that Henery repeatedly used language she found misogynistic and offensive, and that when she reported this alleged behavior to Debra Winter, the school district’s superintendent, she was told by Winter that Henery would be spoken to about his
behavior.

She told the judge that the unwanted behavior continued, with Henery saying to her, at one point, “Oh, that’s right. I have to watch what I say around some people because they get offended.” She also said that Winter was aware of Henery’s continued allegedly offensive behavior.

The school was being represented by Adam Kleinberg of the law firm Sokoloff Stern, the same firm that represents the Town of East Hampton in its legal battle with the owner of Duryea’s, Marc Rowan.

Michael Adeyemi of the New York State Division of Human Rights, representing the department, was doing the questioning on behalf of
Mehrhoff.

Her testimony took up the entire day.Several school employees are expected to testify on behalf of both sides. The hearing was expected to last at least two days.

Debra Winter, the embattled superintendent of the Springs School district, was on hand throughout the first day’s testimony, sitting by the district’s attorneys. It was not clear if Winter eventually would testify.

During the questioning by Adeyemi, Mehrhoff teared up several times, as she described what she says was abusive language and conduct by Henery. She told the court that she had been teaching as a substitute since 2004, and had taken on the additional responsibilities of clerk in 2016. Her immediate supervisor was Julie Bistrian, then a close friend.

During Kleinberg’s cross examination, he focused on friendly texts between them, trying to show that Mehrhoff did not complain when Bistrian used foul language. He particularly focused on the meaning of various emojis in the texts between the two.

The hearing continued on Tuesday, August 27, past press time.

t.e@indyeastend.com