Former Amherst teacher Carolyn Gardner files discrimination complaint

Last modified: Tuesday, October 28, 2014

AMHERST — Lawyers for former Amherst teacher Carolyn Gardner filed a complaint Monday with the Massachusetts Commission against Discrimination alleging that Amherst school administrators placed her on unpaid medical leave after she had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gardner, a math teacher at Amherst Regional High School, has not taught at the school since May, after a string of anonymous racist notes and hostile threats targeting her were discovered at the school. No suspect was identified for most of those incidents.

Northampton attorney Luke Ryan said he sent the 14-page complaint Monday to the Springfield office of the MCAD, but declined to provide a copy to the Gazette.

Discrimination Complaint: Carolyn Gardner v. Town of Amherst, Mass., Amherst-Pelham Regional School Distric... by GazetteNET

In a press release issued Monday, attorneys Ryan and Cynthia J. Turnbull of the Main Street Northampton law firm Sasson Turnbull Ryan & Hoose state that Gardner had been diagnosed with PTSD in May after the last note was found, but that the school department in August “unilaterally placed Ms. Gardner on unpaid medical leave due to its unwillingness to ‘leave (her) situation in limbo.’”

On Aug. 12, Superintendent Maria Geryk was notified about Gardner’s condition, according to the lawyers, giving the district satisfactory time to cover her classes.

The lawyers state that Geryk then asked whether Gardner was requesting an unpaid leave of absence or if she was resigning. The lawyers said their request to discuss other options was not granted, and the school district “unilaterally” placed Gardner on unpaid medical leave.

The lawyers state in the press release that they have tried to avoid litigation, but were unable to because the school district’s lawyer refused to meet with their client and required Gardner to submit a written proposal for the settlement of any and all potential claims. Upon submission of this proposal, the district’s lawyer “characterized Ms. Gardner’s allegations of mistreatment as ‘baseless’ and subsequently refused our request for mediation.

“Inasmuch as we regret having to bring this lawsuit, we are confident that it will lead to the vindication of important rights.”

Geryk said in an email Monday evening that she learned about the complaint late in the school day. “I won’t be making any comments about this complaint,” Geryk said.

Geryk said she also would not address Gardner’s status as a school employee. “In addition, I will not be sharing information about personnel issues,” Geryk said.

The lawyers write that the MCAD complaint was delayed because Gardner is the sole provider for her 21-year-old autistic son and she recognizes the legal system is “ill-equipped to heal the wounds inflicted upon her and the larger community.”

In a telephone interview Monday, Ryan said all discrimination suits must be filed first with the MCAD or the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “You have to start there but you don’t have to end there,” he said.

Gardner began working for the Amherst schools in 2013 after spending 10 years at Northampton High School. Just two months into her tenure, a threatening note naming her was found in the girls’ bathroom, and the next morning a racial reference was found on the nameplate on her door.

She took a leave of absence in March after a message directed at her with a racial slur was found in a girls’ bathroom, and just as she was about to return, another vulgarity aimed at her was discovered in the boys’ bathroom.

The only time a suspect was identified was following the nameplate incident.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at


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