A former Newington High School student’s allegations that the school failed to address a former teacher’s sexual assault are the subject of a lawsuit currently before the state Superior Court.
Marissa Michaels alleges that Joshua Berman, who worked at Newington High School as the technical director and theater director between 2011 and 2016, began sexually assaulting her when she was 15. Berman was Michaels’ teacher and adviser between 2014 and 2016. She further alleges that though school officials knew about the assault, it was never reported to police or the Department of Children and Families (DCF), despite school officials being mandated reporters.
Berman was arrested on sexual assault charges on December 11, 2019 after Michaels brought details of the alleged abuse to Newington police in December 2018. Berman died in May 2022.
The suit names the Newington Board of Education; the town of Newington; Enzo Zocco, who served as a high school administrator during the time Michaels alleges the abuse took place; and Martin Kapper, the administrator of Berman’s estate, as defendants.
Michaels’ complaint details an incident during the spring semester of the 2013-2014 school year where a janitor caught Berman alone with her in the high school’s dark auditorium. The complaint further states that the janitor reported the incident to Zocco but that “[n]o report was made to DCF or to the police by the defendants and Berman was allowed to continue to sexually abuse the plaintiff.”
Following Berman’s arrest, Michaels published her allegations in a blog post. Michaels alleges she was then contacted by Maureen Brummett, superintendent of Newington Public Schools, who claimed during a phone conversation that an assistant principal did fill out a report about the situation and that a meeting with Michaels and Berman had taken place.
But Michaels denies this ever happened. “That’s an absolute lie,” she wrote in an update to her initial blog post, “Here’s the thing about that: if I was legally interviewed, which I was NOT, then legally a 136 form would have been filed. There was no 136 report whatsoever.”
The lawsuit contains five counts. The first is an intentional tort directed against Kapper in his capacity as the administrator of Berman’s estate. The second count, also directed against Berman’s estate, is for intentional infliction of emotional distress caused by the alleged abuse.
A third count alleges that Michaels’ injuries stemming from the abuse show negligence on the part of Zocco, the town, and the board of education for failing to recognize, investigate, or report the situation. The count further alleges that the defendants failed to act in accordance with Connecticut laws about sexual abuse and failed to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sexual abuse of public school students by teachers.
The suit’s fourth count also alleges that Zocco, the town, and the board of education are guilty of breaching their special duty of care. The fifth and final count is for vicarious liability.
Michaels is seeking monetary damages for pain, suffering, personal injuries and humiliation, as well as punitive damages and exemplary damages on the suit’s first and second counts.
The town, the board of education, and Zocco have filed motions for a 30-day extension of time to plead. If granted, they would not have to enter a plea until June 12. A court date is scheduled for April 24.