WILTON, CT: Friday, July 21, 2023, 8:00 p.m. — A Town of Wilton employee has filed a complaint with the CT Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), alleging that a member of the Board of Selectmen discriminated against and harassed her on the basis of her sex (female) and age.
In the complaint, filed with the state CHRO office in Bridgeport, Director of Wilton Social Services Sarah Heath alleged that Selectman Ross Tartell discriminated against her and harassed her based on her age and the fact that she is female.
Heath filed the complaint with the CHRO office on June 16, 2023. It was filed against the Town of Wilton as both a CHRO case and an Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission (EEOC) case. It was not filed against Tartell directly.
Jamie Rubin, CHRO Southwest Regional Manager, notified the Wilton Town Clerk’s office about the complaint in a letter dated July 11, and received on July 12, 2023.
Tartell, who has been a member of Wilton’s Board of Selectmen since 2019, reached out to GOOD Morning Wilton on Friday afternoon, July 21, to provide a copy of the complaint documents. Later in the day, he emailed a written comment about what Heath has alleged.
Heath filed the complaint via an Affidavit of Illegal Discriminatory Practice.
On the form she filled out, Heath checked off “discriminated against…” and “harassed,” which is distinct from “sexually harassed” — an option that she did not check off.
The form shows that Heath believed she was discriminated against in two protected class statuses: “age” and “sex — female.”
In the complaint Heath alleges that she was discriminated against and harassed at an event on March 3, 2023. The event, “Let’s Talk Mental Health,” was billed as a community-wide conversation about mental health in Wilton. It was organized by the Wilton Mental Health Task Force, Wilton Public Schools and the Wilton Youth Council, and held at the Wilton/Riverbrook Regional YMCA.
That day, Heath served on a panel with representatives from several Wilton organizations. In the complaint Heath stated that right before the panel discussion began, Tartell approached her to speak with her.
“Tartell began to loudly describe areas he felt needed attention in the Social Services Department. I believe that he was doing this to humiliate me and in fact it did cause me both anxiety and embarrassment,” Heath alleged in the complaint.
Tartell was a member of the audience, not a member of the panel.
According to Heath’s complaint, she “tried to leave quickly after the panel ended,” but Tartell attempted to speak with her again.
“Tartell began to flag me down and loudly say my name. I felt forced to turn and speak to him — or rather, have him speak at me. He made some less than helpful comments, and also said that he wanted to ‘push me and push Lynn[e Vanderslice]’ — who is the First Selectwoman and technically over his position. This interaction left me feeling uncomfortable,” Heath stated in the complaint.
The complaint specifies that Heath “spoke to Vanderslice” about the interaction, and that Vanderslice spoke with Wilton’s town counsel Ira Bloom. Heath alleged that “upon information and belief,” Bloom allegedly instructed Tartell not to speak to Heath.
Heath said since that time she has had no contact with Tartell “outside of a single email.”
“Due to [being] Female”
In the affidavit, Heath alleged that Tartell’s actions were based on the fact that she is a woman.
“On information and belief, Tartell would never have spoken to and treated a male Department head in this manner,” Heath stated.
“I allege that the actions of Respondent were due to my protected class basis of sex (Female), and not because of my work history, ethics, capabilities or any valid business reason,” she added.
Although Heath’s complaint listed “age” as a protected class on which Tartell allegedly discriminated against her, there is no specific description or particular explanation that Heath included in the affidavit to explain that allegation.
The documents list Heath’s age as 52; GOOD Morning Wilton has requested Tartell’s age in an email and will update the article accordingly. [UPDATE: Tartell is 71.]
The full complaint is provided at the end of the article.
Tartell provided a statement to GOOD Morning Wilton about Heath’s complaint.
“My fellow residents of the Town of Wilton,
“I make this announcement on behalf of myself and not the Town of Wilton.
“Wilton’s Director of Social Services, Sarah Heath, has recently filed a discrimination complaint against the Town of Wilton with the State of Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
“I have decided to make a public statement about the complaint, as it directly involves me as a Selectman. The incident cited occurred during the March 3rd program, ‘Let’s Talk Mental Health: Community Conversation,’ where there was an in-depth review of the mental health crises facing our town and a sharing of potential actions to address these life-threatening issues. A recording of the session is posted on the Wilton Youth Council website. I invite you to review the recording.
“I assure each and every one of you that my actions, particularly in my capacity on the Board of Selectmen, are always driven by a sincere dedication to what I believe is in the best interest of our community. Every decision I make is with the intent to foster strong and professional working relationships for the betterment of our town. In my view, our town’s Social Services function works best when we discuss things in partnership and with one shared goal – the support of every resident needing support.
“I am confident that the legal process will ensure a prompt and fair resolution.
GOOD Morning Wilton contacted Heath, who declined to comment.
GMW emailed First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice for comment on the complaint and to verify details Heath provided in her complaint about Vanderslice’s actions following the event on March 3, 2023.
She responded to all questions posed with a statement, “The town doesn’t comment on ongoing legal matters.”
GMW has reached out to the CT CHRO Southwest Region office, but has not received any response.
This is a developing story and will be updated accordingly.