Dartmouth High guidance counselor sues for sexual harassment, retaliation

Jan 19, 2023

A guidance counselor at Dartmouth High has filed a lawsuit against the school district, a former assistant principal, and the former principal for allegations of sexual discrimination and retaliation.

The suit, filed by a New Bedford attorney on behalf of Melissa Fitzgerald, alleges that former assistant principal Richard Gill made repeated romantic or sexual advances toward her and created a hostile work environment for her in a variety of other ways.

Fitzgerald also alleges that little was done to stop the harassment after it was reported, and that she faced retaliation from other administrators after making the report.

Dartmouth school officials said they could not comment on pending litigation, but confirmed that Gill no longer works in the Dartmouth School District and that Fitzgerald is still employed as a guidance counselor at the high school.

Court documents filed in Bristol County Superior Court state that the harassment began the first time Fitzgerald met Gill in May 2019.

The complaint alleges that Gill held on to Fitzgerald’s hand inappropriately after introducing himself to her, commented that he “did not see a ring” on her finger, and suggested that she should show him around the area.

Fitzgerald responded that she was not interested and asked Gill not to “put his hands on her again,” according to the document.

The filing goes on to allege that Gill repeatedly scheduled lengthy Zoom meetings with Fitzgerald during the 2020 school closure, which “monopolized a great deal of [her] time.”

Gill is also accused of asking Fitzgerald for her personal phone number and — after she refused — pressuring a co-worker to give him her number.

The complaint further describes repeated incidents in which Gill entered Fitzgerald’s office, interrupting her counseling sessions with students and reportedly making inappropriate comments.

Though Fitzgerald reported all of these incidents, the suit alleges that then-Dartmouth High principal Ross Thibault “took no action regarding the hostile work environment created by Mr. Gill.”

Thibault is currently employed by Dartmouth Public Schools as the Director of Teaching and Learning at the secondary level.

On Feb. 18, 2021, Fitzgerald’s attorney sent a letter to the school district requesting an investigation into Gill’s conduct and the administration’s knowledge of his behavior.

The investigation concluded that “sexual harassment was likely to have occurred,” according to court records.

Shortly after the complaint was filed in September 2021, Fitzgerald claims she began experiencing “retaliatory actions” by the school district.

The filing adds that Fitzgerald was falsely accused of misconduct — including sending a student to the guidance office for a muffin — and that relevant information about students assigned to her was withheld.

Fitzgerald was also denied a request to attend professional development training in New Bedford, while another staff member was approved for professional development training in Florida, according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that Fitzgerald’s director, Bridgit DaSilva, repeatedly interrupted her meetings with students, denied her proposals for assemblies, and may have even retaliated against students that Fitzgerald was advising.

DaSilva remains employed by Dartmouth Public Schools as the director of counseling for the high school, school officials confirmed.

In one instance, Fitzgerald learned that two students from her caseload had been suspended and that she had not been invited to their reentry meetings, the suit alleges.

In another case, DaSilva refused to promote a student assigned to Fitzgerald to 12th grade, despite approval from the principal. Meanwhile, another student with fewer credits and a different counselor was promoted to senior.

A copy of the lawsuit is attached to this story.