Lawsuit claims privacy violated

NAUGATUCK — An employee of the school district office is suing her boss and three colleagues, charging that they violated her privacy by gaining access to personal files on her office computer.

The lawsuit, filed April 21 at Waterbury Superior Court, was brought by Mary Hurley, a clerical worker in the Board of Education’s Business Office at the Tuttle Board of Education Building at 380 Church St.

Hurley, who lives in Southbury, claims that four of her co-workers went through personal information stored on her work computer while she was out of work following an accident.

The defendants are listed as Bernice Rizk, Cheryl Kazalunas, Sarah Poynton and Linda LaClair, all of whom live in Naugatuck, according to the lawsuit. Rizk is the assistant business manager for the school system and is Hurley’s direct supervisor.

The alleged incident happened on or about Feb. 3, when Hurley fell on ice near the Tuttle Building and suffered a serious and disabling injury, leaving her unable to work for an extended period, the lawsuit states.

The suit claims that in the days immediately following the injury, while Hurley was out of work, the four women “jointly, maliciously and improperly gained access to the H drive on (Hurley’s) computer for the specific purpose of invading the plaintiff’s privacy.”

The document also states that the women, for several days “until they were caught,” opened and read all of the personal notes and other materials contained on the H drive “without any proper or legitimate purpose but solely for the purpose of invading (Hurley’s) privacy.”

Hurley claims she suffered and continues to suffer severe emotional distress. The lawsuit calls the women’s actions “extreme and outrageous.” It seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

It appears from the Board of Education’s policies and procedures manual that district employees have no expectation of privacy on their work-issued computers. Policy No. 4400R: Employee Use of the District’s Computer Systems states “members of the Naugatuck Board of Education workforce and students should have no expectation of privacy in connection with use of this (electronic) equipment or with the transmission, use or storage of information including stores emails and voice mail messages.”

It was unclear what the women may have been searching for on the computer, and it is unclear if they found anything.

Borough attorney Ned Fitzpatrick is listed in court documents as the attorney representing Rizk, Kazalunas, Poynton and LaClair. Attorney John R. Williams of New Haven is listed as Hurley’s attorney. Neither could be reached for comment.

Some members of the school board’s business office, and the union representing some of its clerical workers, have been in the news recently over other flaps.

In the fall, both the office and the union became the focal point of a controversy involving Poynton, the former president of the union representing non-teaching certified staff in the district. Several union members claimed that Poynton negotiated a poor contract for her fellow union members so she could get herself a better job.

Poynton was hired as a full-time purchasing agent for the school system, a job that had previously been part-time, while the contract negotiations were ongoing. Poynton had previously been a paraprofessional, and her salary nearly doubled when she was hired as purchasing agent.

Union members claimed she was unqualified for the job but was given it so that she would push for the new contract, which, among other things, waives a pension plan for new hires.

Poynton stood behind the contract, even though a large majority of her membership voted against it. And she vehemently denied the claims about her.

The union now has new leadership, and the contract is in arbitration hearings.

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