A Woodbury resident filed an affidavit alleging discriminatory practice by First Selectman Gerald Stomski in reference to a comment made at a town meeting in May 2012.
In the complaint filed on Oct. 17 with the State Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, Linda Zukauskas, 47, of Transylvania Road, claims that Stomski brought undue attention to her as a female, which she found “to be sexually harassing and insulting.”
During a meeting on a proposed open space purchase, Stomski motioned to the press and asked that they include certain information in their reports, as public attendance was low. Zukauskas, a reporter for Voices covering Newtown and Middlebury, spoke up, making it clear that she was there as a resident and not in her role as a reporter or as chairman of the Energy Committee.
When Stomski stated that he was speaking to the other members of the media present, Zukauskas asked, “Then why are you looking at me?”
According to both parties, Stomski responded that if he was looking at Zukauskas, it was because she is “attractive.”
“I used the word ‘attractive,’” Stomski said Monday during an interview. “It’s an adjective I use all the time.”
Stomski said he intended the comment to be innocuous and a compliment, noting that his wife of 33 years was in the audience.
“It’s similar to saying, ‘It was an attractive crowd that was there last night,’ or saying to my wife as we walk into church, ‘Boy, that’s an attractive couple with an attractive family,’” Stomski asserted. “Is that sexual?”
However, Zukauskas said the comment made her feel “very uncomfortable.”
“I don’t think he gets why it is offensive,” she said Monday. “I don’t want a married guy saying he’s starring at me because I’m attractive in front of the entire town… It doesn’t matter if he thinks the word is OK, if it makes someone uncomfortable you have to respect that person.”
Zukauskas said she was taken aback by the comment at the time and even more embarrassed when several people approached her after the meeting to talk about it.
Since that time, Zukauskas said she has avoided “meetings where I know he’ll preside,” or any local government meetings as of late.
Zukauskas called the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities shortly after the May meeting before explaining the incident over the phone to a representative in June and sitting down for a formal interview with the Commission in October, when the official complaint was filed.
Stomski’s legal counsel responded to the complaint, as required, stating that the single comment “is absolutely insufficient to establish harassment,” and alleging, “her motivation for the complaint is simply to harm First Selectman Gerald Stomski.”
“If she had come to me after the meeting and told me she was offended I would have apologized,” Stomski said. “I would have been more than happy to apologize to her and would apologize to her today.”
However, he added that her assertions of harassment are “not consistent with the language of sexual harassment [laws] and suspicious as to motive and timing,” citing that 2013 is an election year. (Stomski has yet to announce whether he will run for another term and declined to comment on his political future Monday.)
A History at Odds
In Stomski’s affidavit in response, his legal counsel states that the complaint “is nothing more than a blatant attempt to personally and politically besmirch First Selectman Gerald Stomski. Besides being members of different political parties, Ms. Zukauskas’ attack is motivated by First Selectman Gerald Stomski and the Board of Selectmen disbandment of an ad hoc committee of which Ms. Zukauskas was a member.”
The Energy Committee, which Zukauskas chaired, was established in 2009 and renewed for an additional year in December 2011 before being dissolved by the Woodbury Board of Selectmen in September 2012.
Along with the timing of the dissolution of the Energy Committee, Stomski noted that Zukauskas was a member of Woodbury First, a self-described “non-partisan coalition” that supported Unaffiliated First Selectman candidate Alex DeSorbo in 2011.
With another election on the horizon, Stomski said he believes the accusation of harassment is a “precursor to an election year and all the silliness that comes with it.”
Zukauskas denied a political agenda, stating that her work on behalf of Woodbury First was in support of bipartisan policies and unifying Unaffiliated voters. Zukauskas said she has been registered as Unaffiliated for almost three decades and described her political views as fiscally conservative, “prefer[ring] less government to more,” which tend to be tenets of the Republican Party, though she has voted for local candidates from both parties.
Zukauskas said she brought the complaint after what she describes as a history of mistreatment from Stomski.
“This wasn’t the first time,” she said. “He’s yelled at me, made derogatory comments — and those things only seem to get worse over time.”
Zukauskas referenced an incident in February 2011 during a bid opening in the Shove Building. Stomski entered the meeting room and asked Zukauskas to speak with him in his office, the next room over. As they entered the office, Stomski asked Zukauskas to close the door behind her, which she refused.
“I said I wouldn’t meet with him in private and needed to leave the door open,” Zukauskas said Monday. “He yelled and said he could do what he wanted with his door… That’s what he does, he just yells, he doesn’t say, ‘Can we work on this?’”
Zukauskas sent an e-mail to Stomski’s first selectman account on Feb. 15, 2011 [see attached], stating that she “didn’t want to close the door because I do not want to meet with you privately,” and accusing Stomski of “distracting me from doing my best for Woodbury.”
Stomski replied that they would not have to meet privately, “Unless it has to do with town legal matters.”
Stomski said Monday he remembered the incident but not the e-mail correspondence afterward.
“It is a very busy office,” he said, as several town departments share the workspace. “I wanted to close the door because of all the sound. I said, ‘I have a right to close the door.’ Not yelling and nothing sexually motivated.”
The February 2011 incident is not included in the harassment complaint, which the town’s insurance carrier will be handling moving forward, according to Stomski.
“There are two sides to every story — he has a valid side, too,” Zukauskas said. “I just want to be able to serve my town without feeling uncomfortable.”
She said a satisfactory outcome from the complaint would be for Stomski to attend a counseling program.