Former New London school employee alleges gender bias

New London — A 22-year employee of the New London school district who was the target of a sexual harassment complaint from a female co-worker has filed a complaint of his own, alleging that gender bias led to his dismissal.

Timothy Wheeler, the district’s former executive director of both operations and information technology, filed a complaint with the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities against New London Public Schools. The Connecticut Human Rights and Opportunities Act ensures that no employer discriminates against an employee on the basis of race, color, religion and sex, among other things.

Wheeler claims his contract was not renewed last year because of the discrimination and sexual harassment complaint filed with the CHRO by Katherine Slufik, a former network manager in the technology department, where Wheeler was her supervisor.

Slufik had alleged a “hostile work environment” throughout the length of her employment, from 2013 to 2016. The district’s own investigation turned up no evidence of sexual harassment but did determine some of the texts between Wheeler and Slufik to be “overly friendly.” The Board of Education eventually agreed to pay Slufik, who no longer works for the district, $125,000 with an agreement that she drop the complaint. Her health insurance also is paid through December 2018 as part of the agreement.

Wheeler’s employment ended on June 30, 2017, because his contract was not renewed. Wheeler, who was an at-will employee, claims he was left unemployed so the school district could avoid potential liability. As an at-will employee, Wheeler is not represented by a union and essentially had no guarantees his contract would be renewed.

Wheeler always has maintained that Slufik’s claims were false and were made in response to her being placed on administrative leave in December 2016 because of her declining job performance, insubordination and “lack of civility” to her co-workers. Several of Slufik’s co-workers filed written complaints about her behavior. Slufik filed her complaint less than a month after being placed on leave.

“Even though (the school district) concluded that I did not sexually harass Ms. Slufik, I claim that Respondent placed me on administrative leave and separated me from my employment for reasons related to gender bias. Respondent is not permitted to treat me in a biased fashion because I am a male and a female has made untrue allegations of sexual harassment against me and Respondent is trying to avoid practical disadvantages which might result from unbiased treatment,” Wheeler’s complaint reads.

A spokesperson from CHRO said the complaint is under investigation and could not provide further information.

Wheeler also alleges the district did not conduct a proper investigation and “treated me differently during the investigation,” according to the complaint. Wheeler, who was placed on administrative leave on March 24, 2017, said he complained about bias and discrimination on May 3, 2017, and that in retaliation he was informed on May 30, 2017, that his employment would be coming to an end.

A representative from the school district and its attorney did not respond to calls for comment on the complaint. Wheeler's attorney, Todd Steigman, declined comment. The CHRO complaint was filed on Dec. 20 and the city received notice on Jan. 3.

g.smith@theday.com

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