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Amid civil rights probe, another Everett school administrator files discrimination complaint

Everett Deputy Superintendent Kim Tsai is the third top female administrator to allege discrimination by the city, school committee, and Mayor Carlo DeMaria within 20 months.handout

With the city of Everett embroiled in a sweeping federal discrimination probe and its former school superintendent facing charges of sexual assault, a third top female school administrator has filed a discrimination claim against the city, Everett School Committee, and Mayor Carlo DeMaria.

Deputy superintendent Kim Tsai filed the complaint Nov. 18 with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, alleging discrimination based on gender, color, national origin, and retaliation.

Tsai, who identifies herself in her complaint as one of the only Asian and Pacific Islander deputy superintendents in the state, was recruited by Priya Tahiliani, who was named superintendent in December 2019.


“Despite Tsai excelling in her work performance during her tenure as Deputy Superintendent, she has been subjected to unlawful discrimination based upon her race and gender, and her affiliation with Tahiliani in the form of intimidating, hostile, and/or offensive conduct,” states her complaint, which was obtained by the Globe. It accuses four school committee members, including Mayor Carlo DeMaria, of interfering with her work and cultivating a hostile work environment.

Tahiliani filed a similar MCAD complaint in January, saying DeMaria and several committee members had undermined her and were preparing to oust her, despite positive performance reviews, because she is a woman of color. Among her complaints was that the mayor sought and secured a position on the school committee for the first time after she became the district’s first superintendent of color.

Tahiliani’s lawyer, Benjamin Flam, said that complaint has been withdrawn so it can be filed in superior court. Tahiliani and Tsai had previously worked together at Boston Public Schools, where they also filed an MCAD complaint alleging race and gender discrimination by way of pay disparities.

On Tuesday, the mayor was among the members of the school committee who voted against beginning talks to extend Tahiliani’s contract as superintendent. By a 6-4 vote, the school committee decided to begin negotiations. The mayor’s chief of staff, Erin C. Deveney, did not immediately respond to written questions about his actions or the federal investigation.


The new discrimination claim comes as the city faces a federal investigation by US Attorney Rachael Rollins and the US Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Rollins launched the investigation in June after a series of racist and racially charged incidents. Among them was a leaked recording of a private Zoom meeting showing several city officials joking about recruiting Black people to public events to insulate themselves politically against charges of racism. The mayor’s spokeswoman, Deanna Deveney, asked City Councilor Anthony DiPierro to recruit “one of your dark friends” for a political event.

“I don’t have a lot of those friends, I’m just saying,” DiPierro responded.

City officials initially threatened the whistle-blower that they could be sued for distributing the video, which was secretly recorded. Later, after the Globe reported about the incidents and Everett High School students staged a walkout to protest the city’s inaction, the two resigned. The resignations also followed a written warning by the city’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion that, by not taking action, the city could be considered a hostile work environment and exposed to legal action.

Rollins’s investigation followed those disclosures and is based on Title VII, the federal statute that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, sex, and other factors, a lawyer representing the city said last week. At least seven attorneys from the two offices have been involved in the investigation, attorney Linda Ricci said at a city council meeting Nov. 15.


“The stakes are very high,” Ricci said. “This is a very significant investigation.” The city is at risk of financial penalties, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reputational damage, she said.

Ricci described the investigation as “very broad in scope,” requiring multiple city agencies to hand over five years’ worth of documents.

“Everyone is part of the investigation, which is why it’s so important to have independent counsel, outside counsel, to really conduct the inquiry we need within the city so we can respond in an appropriate way,” Ricci said at the meeting.

The city retained her law firm, Greenberg Traurig, within a day of being notified by Rollins about the investigation in June, she said. But officials did not ask the council for any money for the legal costs until last week, when they requested $500,000.

“Our whole purpose is to try to avoid the potential of a civil lawsuit,” Ricci told the council.

Keith Slattery, assistant city solicitor, told councilors that Everett officials did not feel the in-house counsel should handle the response to the investigation and that the outside firm was chosen for its expertise and objectivity.

“Being objective was the best thing to do and that’s why we put it out of house,” Slattery said.

But DeMaria has long used Greenberg Traurig to represent his campaign. A partner at the firm, former US attorney John Pappalardo, appeared before the city council in recent years to defend the city’s expenditures for DeMaria’s legal costs. The mayor also recently created a legal defense fund in his name at the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.


Slattery was also seen on the leaked video that prompted the civil rights investigation.

DiPierro had been facing calls to resign for two months after the disclosure of private messages that showed him using the n-word in texts and memes.

Meanwhile, the mayor, city, and schools are facing other continuing legal issues — including a breach of contract lawsuit from a third top female administrator who claims she faced age discrimination and reverse discrimination in the Everett schools.

Janice Gauthier, a school official for 47 years, stepped in as interim superintendent in March 2019 after former superintendent Frederick F. Foresteire was accused of sexual harassment by a school employee and placed on leave.

Gauthier claimed she was passed over for the superintendent’s position, which went to Tahiliani, and then bounced from her previous position as curriculum director at age 70, “by virtue of the School Committee’s maligning of her character by association of the sexual predator who served as Superintendent before her.” She claimed breach of contract, saying the school committee violated a memorandum of understanding that said that, if she didn’t get the job to succeed Foresteire as superintendent, she could return to her position as curriculum director. Instead, during her 15-month stint as interim superintendent, the school committee replaced her.


The court partially dismissed her discrimination claims, which she is appealing.

The school committee settled sexual harassment complaints filed against Foresteire at MCAD by three women who worked in the schools. He now faces six criminal counts of indecent assault and battery and one count of assault by former employees. Foresteire is due to appear in Malden District Court on Dec. 2 and has indicated he may change his plea from not guilty and acknowledge there is sufficient evidence to find him guilty. The three former employees he is accused of assaulting are expected to offer victim statements in court that day.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert.