New Castle News

March 20, 2014

New Castle principal suing district, superintendent

Debbie Wachter
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — With alleged sexual harassment complaints under investigation, a New Castle school official is suing his school district and the superintendent.

New Castle Junior High principal Robert Razzano has filed a lawsuit against the New Castle Area School District and superintendent John J. Sarandrea, claiming the district did not follow policy procedure in investigating complaints of sexual harassment reportedly lodged against him by seven of his fellow district employees.

Razzano’s Pittsburgh-based attorney, Avrum Levicoff of the Levicoff, Silko & Deemer law firm, filed a complaint in the Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas this week, claiming the district did not properly follow its 10-year-old harassment policy in investigating the complaints.

An attempt to contact the 52-year-old Razzano at his home yesterday was unsuccessful.

Levicoff said yesterday the intent of the lawsuit “is to encourage the school district to do the investigation it is required to do. It may unearth evidence as to who’s really behind this. I’m sure it will exonerate him.”

The court complaint against the district and Sarandrea contends that they did not adhere to a 15-day time limit in providing a written report to Razzano, and it contends the district did not properly conduct an investigation.

It also alleges that Sarandrea notified Razzano of a meeting date by text message.

The filing contends that the district “totally and deliberately ignored the policy in every detail.”



WON’T SIT ‘IDLY BY’

The lawsuit requests the court to order that either the district declare the matter closed, or that the district determine who is pursuing a formal harassment complaint and conduct a thorough, even-handed investigation. He also is asking that the district prepare a written report and provide a copy of it to Razzano as required, along with timely notification of the progress.

Razzano also is seeking a monetary award to reimburse him for the cost and expense of the lawsuit, including attorneys fees and costs.

The court filing includes documents prepared by Sarandrea — one is a March 11 letter that formally notifies Razzano of the allegations against him and of the date of a hearing on those alleged complaints.

The other document details the names of the employees who lodged the complaints and their specific allegations. With two exceptions, there are no dates attached of when the alleged incidents occurred.

Levicoff stressed that the accompanying list of allegations by employees has nothing to do with the nature of the complaint he filed against the district and Sarandrea.

“These allegations that are being made against him, some of them are severe,” he said, and “for the most part are totally false.” He indicated that when he investigates how they were started, a separate lawsuit could follow.

“We’re not going to sit idly by while anybody tries to slander him and ruin his good name,” Levicoff said.

 Sarandrea said yesterday that he had compiled that document of allegations from verbal and written statements derived from interviews the district had with the employees during its investigation.

 He said he believes the 15-day deadline in the district policy refers to the conclusion of the district’s investigation into the complaints, which is not yet completed.

“I could not conclude my investigation until after the Loudermill hearing with Mr. Razzano,” Sarandrea said yesterday, referring to a due-process hearing conducted Monday to allow Razzano to answer to the complaints.

Razzano has been on paid administrative leave since Feb. 19 when the allegations came to light.

He remains on paid leave status pending the close of the investigation, Sarandrea said. He added that the district’s investigation “is very much in the end stages.”



TEXT EXPLANATION

Sarandrea said that as a result of the hearing, he has to recall witnesses for follow-up interviewing.

He explained that the text message he had sent Razzano, referenced in the court complaint, pertained to setting a new date for the Loudermill hearing. It had been scheduled for earlier in the month, and he was preparing a letter, but sent a text message to Razzano to ask which date he and his attorney preferred before sending the letter.

“In deference to his attorney, whom I had no contact information for, I texted Bob to get back to me regarding the dates that would work best. That was the only thing the text said,” Sarandrea said yesterday.

Sarandrea said that once the investigation is concluded, he plans to meet with the school district’s counsel to determine whether it has to send Razzano and his counsel a statement of charges.

 “We’ve not reduced anything to writing or had our full disposition yet,” he said.

The district is being represented in the process by attorney Andrew Evankovich of the Andrews and Price law firm of Pittsburgh.

District Solicitor Charles Sapienza declined comment, saying that as district solicitor he cannot represent the district in the Razzano lawsuit, because he must act as an adviser to the school board if it is called upon to make a decision regarding the outcome of the investigation against Razzano.

The New Castle police and Lawrence County District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa also had investigated the same allegations of the school district employees.

Lamancusa said last week that there was no evidence of any criminal activity and that no criminal charges would be filed, but he noted that the school district would have policy matters to address.

The school board named Razzano as junior high school principal on July 29 at Sarandrea’s recommendation. He received a 12-month contract with this year’s base salary at $109,020.

Prior to that he had been assistant principal for 14 years, and before that he taught social studies for 4 1/2 years in the district’s alternative education program.

His wife, Barbara, is an elected member of the school board.

(Email: dwachter@ncnewsonline.com)