Bucks County congressional hopeful named in lawsuit denies she used racist, homophobic language

By: - February 20, 2020 10:40 am

A Democratic congressional hopeful in suburban Philadelphia has hit back against a claim that she used racist, anti-semitic, and homophobic language in 2018 while serving as a member of a local school board.

Democratic 1st Congressional District candidate Debra Wachspress (Wachspress for Congress campaign site)

In a statement released to LevittownNow.com, Debra Wachspress, who’s running for the 1st Congressional District seat now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, said the claims included in a lawsuit filed by the Pennsbury School District’s former special education director were “complete and utter distortions,” and that the suit itself was “fraudulent.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia by Cheryl A. Morett, of Pottstown, names Wachspress, fellow school board members Joshua Waldorf and Christine Toy-Dragoni, district Superintendent William Gretzula, Assistant Superintendent Donna Dunar, and a parent, as a defendant.

Morett alleges violations of civil rights protections against retaliation and hostile work environment, the Bucks County Courier Times reported, citing the litigation.

In her court filing, Morett claimed that she first began witnessing “instances of blatant discrimination,” in 2016 that included Dunar twice referring to one gay district employee as a “crotchety gay guy,” who “hated women.” According to the suit, Morett said she contacted the district’s human resources director to complain.

More from The Bucks County Courier Times:

“Morett states that, in December 2017, the district hired “a consultant to work with him (Gretzula) to address the concerns and complaints that were brought forward from administrative staff,” according to the lawsuit.

“According to Morett, Gretzula responded to her complaints by alleging she was simply trying to undermine him and take the superintendent’s job.

“Gretzula said in December 2018 that he would leave the district at the end of his contract term that June, but ended up renewing his contract for another five years. According to Morett’s lawsuit, Gretzula said he planned to ‘clean house’ of mid-level administrators like herself.”

The litigation goes on to claim that, during an April 2018 school board meeting, while the panel met in executive session, which is closed to the public, Wachspress “retaliated recklessly” against Morrett, who she charged was conspiring to “get rid of Gretzula,” so that Morrett could take his job.

The suit claims that, in a show of support for Gretzula, Wachspress used a series of homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic epithets, and only stopped “when other board members screamed at her that her comments were highly offensive.”

According to the suit, Wachspress told board members that “she was entitled to use these words because she had no idea who was or was not offended.”

Morrett resigned her position in April 2019, “‘due to ongoing harassment, hostile work environment, discrimination and retaliation,’” the Bucks County Courier Times reported.

In her statement to LevittownNow, Wachspress said:

“In an executive session, there was a discussion regarding language, specific words, and their effects on all of us. I recounted a story from my childhood in which I was called a ‘dirty k***’ by a classmate – an incident I still remember vividly 42 years later. Never in my life have I denigrated anyone with words like that. The allegations in this fraudulent suit are complete and utter distortions.”

The suit seeks damages for lost pay as well as “pain and suffering and humiliation” caused by the defendants’ behavior.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.