Former staff member sues Yale

A former Yale staff member has filed suit against the University, alleging that Yale turned a blind eye to workplace discrimination against an employee with disabilities.

Karen Curcio, who worked as an associate administrator in the Yale School of Nursing, claims she was fired because she refused to terminate the employment of another staff member on the basis of that staff member’s physical disability. Curcio’s complaint — which was filed in February but is still in the process of moving through Connecticut court — alleges that the University failed to adequately respond to complaints she raised on the matter. But the University firmly denied Curcio’s allegations and has mounted a defense in Connecticut court.

According to Curcio’s complaint, Nona D’Onofrio, the assistant dean for finance and administration at the School of Nursing, attempted to pressure Curcio into firing the employee with disabilities. After Curcio did not fire the employee, D’Onofrio in turn fired Curcio in July 2011, the complaint states. D’Onofrio declined to comment on the suit Monday.

“[Curcio’s] employment was swiftly terminated after she refused to participate in an illegal and unlawful employment practice,” the complaint read.

As part of the suit, Curcio is asking for the University to pay her for lost wages and employment benefits, damages for emotional distress, legal fees and other relief payments.

In response to Curcio’s complaint, Yale has taken a strong stance.

“Yale believes the claim to be completely without merit,” University spokesman Tom Conroy said.

The University has hired a Guilford-based law firm — Donahue, Durham and Noonan — to defend it against Curcio’s allegations. The firm, which has represented Yale in a number of past lawsuits, is also representing D’Onofrio. Patrick Noonan ’74, the attorney listed on all of the documents related to the suit that have been publicly filed by the University, could not be reached for comment.

Conroy said Yale does not discriminate on the basis of disability and has a “comprehensive program to accommodate staff with disabilities.”

Curcio could not be reached for comment at her Meriden, Conn. home on Monday. Her attorney, Emanuele Cicchiello, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Curcio first arrived at Yale in 1997 as a tax manager. Twelve years later, in Nov. 2009, she transferred to an associate administrator position within the Nursing School, where D’Onofrio was her manager.

Shortly after arriving at the School of Nursing, Curcio was called into meetings where D’Onofrio repeatedly reviewed a binder of “issues” relating to another employee, Kim James, according to the complaint. James, who reported to Curcio, suffered from several severe physical disabilities, which D’Onofrio claimed negatively impacted the department in which they worked.

According to the Yale Directory, the University no longer employs anyone named Kim James or Kimberly James. Conroy, citing the confidential nature of personnel records, declined to comment on the circumstances of James’ departure.

Conroy said James “never asserted any claim that she had been treated improperly by the University.”

Curcio claimed that over time, D’Onofrio pressured her to fire James. In Oct. 2010, Curcio contacted Geraldine Sullivan, the director of employee relations at the Yale School of Medicine to complain about D’Onofrio’s conduct.

Curcio told Sullivan that “she was asked to participate in firing a disabled person specifically because of her disability, to make up false reasons to cover it up, and stated her belief that Ms. D’Onofrio’s actions were in violation of the law,” the complaint read.

According to the complaint, neither Sullivan nor Yale’s human relations department took any action. Sullivan reportedly told Curcio that any investigation would have to be initiated by D’Onofrio herself.

Sullivan declined to comment on the case, directing all questions to Conroy. University Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Mike Peel could not be reached for comment.

Curcio first filed a complaint to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in Jan. 2012. In early January of this year, she received a release of jurisdiction from the CHRO, which allows Curcio to file the suit.

University Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson directed all questions regarding the suit to Conroy.

The case was filed in superior court in Hartford, Conn.

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