EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


October 29, 2009

Principal sues over school e-mail

Says committee member's note violated her privacy

HAVERHILL — In an October 2007 e-mail, School Committee member Kerry Fitzgerald warned her colleagues they could be sued if they discussed the performance of school employees by name at a public meeting.

Fitzgerald and the city are now being sued by a Haverhill school administrator over the contents of the e-mail.

In the e-mail, Fitzgerald referred to a 2005 lawsuit settlement between the city and Dawn Caputo, who at the time was a gym teacher and track coach. Caputo is now an assistant principal at Nettle Middle School.

"Before I was on the School Committee ... Dawn Caputo's performance was discussed publicly by SC members and the SC was sued," Fitzgerald wrote. "It was just a mention that she did something that the former athletic director did not like and he did not want to re-sign her contract. We lost the lawsuit and subsequent appeals.

"If we even mention the names of employees who may or may not have done something wrong, we could be sued again and would likely lose, which would cost $100,000 for each lawsuit," Fitzgerald said in the e-mail.

The e-mail does not mention the amount of the 2005 settlement, but the e-mail says the city's portion was $25,000 with Haverhill's insurance company picking up the rest.

Caputo is now suing Fitzgerald and the city over the e-mail and the city is paying Haverhill attorney Joel Rosen to defend Fitzgerald.

Rosen and Fitzgerald are friends. Their families know each other well and they have worked together on school issues that concern local parents' groups.

City Solicitor William Cox said he recommended the School Department hire a lawyer from the firm of Kopelman and Paige who is expert in such matters and have that lawyer represents Fitzgerald. But Superintendent Raleigh Buchanan said he does not remember Cox's recommendation. Buchanan told the committee it should allow Fitzgerald to hire a lawyer of her choice and pay the bill.

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