Dr. Roberto Padilla, a newly appointed school superintendent for the Bronx, is currently facing workplace sexual harassment and retaliation allegations, according to a lawsuit filed in the Hudson Valley.
Mayor Eric Adams and Department of Education (DOE) Chancellor David C. Banks appointed Dr. Padilla as superintendent of the South Bronx’s District 7 on June 27, despite an open complaint against him alleging several instances of inappropriate conduct while serving the Newburgh school district, as well as retaliation after allegations were made.
While the Orange County District Attorney’s Office has said they will not be pursuing a criminal case, attorney Alex Berke — who is representing the two women who have filed the suit — told amNew York Metro that there is already plenty of evidence indicating that Padilla and the school district acted inappropriately.
“Harassment is one piece that happened and how the institution or the employer reacted is another piece,” said Berke on July 6. “In this case, there’s a number of pieces of evidence of retaliation. First [Ms. Miller] had to be working with him [after she made her allegations] and then both plaintiffs – we don’t know how, we will probably learn more in the course of our litigation – but their names and cell phone numbers were leaked to members of the media.”
The two female educators who filed the complaint are both educators: Una Miller, a former Newburgh elementary school principal; and Elizabeth Walsh, a high school English teacher.
Once the official complaints were made to the Newburgh school district, attorneys for Miller and Walsh said, Padilla resigned, but reached an agreement to stay on the payroll for another two years, including receiving health care benefits, in exchange for releasing the District from any legal liabilities. This severance agreement is valued at an estimated $500,000.
Padilla has also been “very challenging” to serve paperwork related to the case, according to Berke.
“Although I assume he is aware of the lawsuit, he has not been served with the lawsuit, despite numerous attempts,” Berke told amNew York Metro.
Seedy trip to San Diego
Court documents filed by the two women’s attorneys allege that Padilla sexually harassed them at a work trip to San Diego in August 2021. Padilla served as the “nightly event coordinator” and planned alcohol-fueled dinners and bar nights for the attendees.
In one instance, Padilla was apparently intoxicated and allegedly put his arm around Walsh, rubbed his knee against hers and touched her inappropriately. He then observed a couple across the couch from himself and Walsh and proceeded to make explicit noises in regards to their displays of affection and wondered aloud if the man would “get lucky” that night.
Later that night, Miller and Walsh both allege that Padilla forcefully pulled Miller flush against his body, before she shouted “What the f–k is going on?”
Afterwards, when Miller attempted to leave the bar, Padilla said “You can’t leave without giving me a hug.”
Padilla also allegedly commented on a tattoo on Walsh’s body, slowly touching the tattoo and remarking on its “big red ass.”
Both Walsh and Miller also allege that before the conference in San Diego, Padilla had made inappropriate comments towards them. In one incident, Padilla allegedly blew a kiss at Miller during a data conference, and in another, asked Walsh if he could give her a piggyback ride.
Following the settlement reached with Padilla in January 2022, a representative from the Newburgh school district released a statement: “There were thorough investigations into allegation of sexual harassment brought by two former female employees that we concluded, based upon the advice of legal counsel, would not be criminal in nature, even if proven at a hearing,” the statement read. “Only such proof would have given the Board the ability to set aside the Superintendent’s Contract without any further monetary obligations toward him.”
Aghast over appointment
After Padilla was appointed superintendent by Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks in June, Miller and Walsh expressed disappointment in the decision.
“We are shocked that the New York City public schools, Chancellor Banks and Mayor Adams are putting their trust in Roberto Padilla after his conduct that compelled us to file a lawsuit against him,” said Miller and Walsh in a joint statement June 27. “We previously trusted Padilla, and our careers were derailed because of it. The students, families and educators of the Bronx and District 7 deserve better than Padilla, who we saw firsthand create a culture of fear and intimidation. We advise the city to re-evaluate this important decision.”
Community members were also unsure of Padilla’s appointment, with some remarking during the interview process for the Bronx job that they had seen reports of the sexual harassment case.
“In the spirit of transparency, I’d love to know why did Dr. Padilla resign from Newburgh?” asked Mary, a community member, during the interview process. “In the paper today, it said he’s under investigation, and I feel our community deserves better.”
When asked why the DOE and Chancellor Banks had appointed an individual with an open sexual harassment complaint against him, NYC Schools spokesperson Nathaniel Styer told The New York Post that Padilla was the best individual for the superintendent position, citing his 2020 New York Superintendent of the Year award.
“Every claim of harassment should be thoroughly heard and investigated,” said Styer, a spokesperson for the DOE, in a statement to amNewYork Metro. “These claims were investigated and Mr. Padilla directly addressed them with the community during the hiring process.As the 2021 New York State Superintendent of the Year, we believe that Mr. Padilla has the track record of success and after community feedback he will best serve the students and families of the Bronx. We believe that he has the best experience and is well situated to responsibly lead District 7.”
Educators and community leaders at the Newburgh school district have voiced their concerns with Padilla’s recent appointment. In one board meeting, on Dec. 31, 2021, one board member expressed outrage over the settlement.
“This agreement spits in the face of two victims who had the courage to come forward and will discourage others to come forward,” said board member Darron Stridiron during the meeting.
A principal of a Newburgh elementary school also backed the allegations.
“I believe the women who came forward as well as those who did not,” said Lisa Buon, a principal of a Newburgh elementary school. “He has left behind in his wake a district that has failed children under his leadership for the past seven years. All one has to do is look at the data, especially when it comes to the achievement levels of Black and Brown children. I feel sorry for the children of District 7.”
amNew York Metro has reached out to the New York State Council of Superintendents and is awaiting a response.