Isabel Bysiewicz

Gemma Joseph Lumpkin, former chief of the Office of Youth, Family and Community Engagement of the New Haven Public Schools, is suing the New Haven Board of Education.

In a Feb. 1 lawsuit, Joseph Lumpkin asserted that Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks violated her rights under the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA — a national labor law that entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave.

“The plaintiff has suffered irreparable harm by the defendant’s fundamentally altering the position of Chief of the Office of Youth, Family and Community Engagement to which the plaintiff had returned,” the lawsuit states.

In October 2018, Joseph Lumpkin formally adopted Nora — a child she had been fostering through the Connecticut State Department of Children and Families since 2017 — according to the facts provided in the lawsuit. Last October, a state social worker notified Joseph Lumpkin that her adopted daughter’s biological sibling, Major, was born the prior September and needed a foster home. Joseph Lumpkin agreed to serve as the newborn’s foster parent. In order to bond with the newborn, she formally applied for three months of maternity leave.

On Oct. 3, 2018, Joseph Lumpkin notified the Board of Education Deputy Superintendent Ivelise Velazquez and Birks of the situation and advised them that she would be applying for leave under the FMLA for adoption and foster care. The newborn arrived at Joseph Lumpkin’s home in the first week of October. On Oct. 5 and 6, Joseph Lumpkin took two days off from work “to initiate the bonding process with Major,” according to the lawsuit.

After Joseph Lumpkin worked part time for a month, in November, the director of human resources approved her for FMLA extended leave for the period of Oct. 10, 2018, through Jan. 8, 2019 — so she could address Major’s issues.

In the completed U.S. Department of Labor FMLA certificate, Joseph Lumpkin’s health care provider from New Haven Pediatrics said that Major was born to a mother “who received no prenatal care and used illegal addictive substances.” According to the health care provider, the newborn requires around the clock care and specialized developmental surveillance.

According to the lawsuit, district officials questioned Joseph Lumpkin’s eligibility for extended maternity leave. It asserts that Human Resources Director Sheniquia McCrea told Joseph Lumpkin that her job would be secure when she returned, but Birks told school board members that Joseph Lumpkin was absent without the proper paperwork Nov. 14.

Shortly after Joseph Lumpkin returned to work Jan. 9, the lawsuit states, she was informed that several of her responsibilities had been removed from her office — including an after-school program and dropout prevention programs. According to the suit, Velazquez explicitly told Joseph Lumpkin that “this change was solely at the direction of the superintendent of schools and that the deputy had not been consulted or informed of the change.”

The lawsuit claims that the Board of Education has been incrementally “eliminating [Joseph Lumpkin’s] duties and responsibilities, leaving her without meaningful employment.”

Later that month, in a memorandum sent by the central office, she was officially removed from her position as a chief of the Office of Youth, Family and Community Engagement and was reassigned to the Student Services department under Director of Pupil Services Typhanie Jackson.

Joseph Lumpkin is seeking “declaratory, injunctive and equitable relief; monetary relief and liquidated damages; costs and attorney fees,” according to the lawsuit. She also seeks monetary damages and equitable relief for the “[Board of Education’s] breach of its employment contract.”

She entered into a new employment contract for a term from July 2017 to June 2020, according to the official contract attached to the lawsuit.

Besides seeking a declaration that the Board of Education’s conduct violated her rights, Joseph Lumpkin’s lawsuit demands that the court order the Board to restore her to the position of chief of the Office of Youth, Family and Community Engagement, as it was structured prior to the plaintiff taking FMLA leave.

Joseph Lumpkin declined to comment on the story. Board of Education member Joseph Rodriguez said that he could not comment on a personal matter — especially when it concerns pending litigation.

New Haven Board of Education members Tamiko Jackson-McArthur and Darnell Goldson did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Thursday. Board member Edward Joyner declined to comment.

The superintendent’s office forwarded the News’ request for comment to an executive administrative assistant to the superintendent, who did not respond to the request.

Joseph Lumpkin began her position of chief of the Office of Youth, Family and Community Engagement in 2015.

Carolyn Sacco | carolyn.sacco@yale.edu

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu