Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Coach Joe Fischetti
A former Columbia High School baseball player has filed a lawsuit against the school district, coach Joe Fischetti, and several administrators claiming 17 acts of bullying and harassment during his time on the team.

The lawsuit filed on Tuesday in Essex County Civil Court, claims that David DeFranco, who graduated in 2015, was unfairly treated by Fischetti and others and had his complaints ignored by the district.

The suit names the Board of Education, Fischetti, fellow coach Matthew Becht, and several other administrators. It contends that "throughout his baseball career at school, David was subject to a culture and climate of discriminatory conduct including harassment, intimidation, bullying and retaliation which was and continued to be fostered by" the defendants.

See the main portion of the lawsuit and the first count HERE.

The lawsuit contends such treatment dates back to August 2014, alleging that "Fischetti and Becht and other coaches directed lewd, sexist, racist and vulgar comments towards David and others."

One allegation claims that DeFranco was called a "s---head" and a "motherf---er" by the coaches, the lawsuit alleges. "At one point in time, the baseball coaching staff permitted the posting of a sign that said things such as a male student "[name witheld] sucks d---," the suit also alleges.

Attorney Jeffrey Youngman, who is representing DeFranco, said the district was advised of his intention to file a lawsuit last year, and as recently as late January, but declined to meet with him or his client to discuss the issues.

Youngman said the major issue is that the district has an anti-bullying policy that it does not enforce. "The school district is just not policing its coaches," Youngman said. "It clearly had knowledge [of the bullying] that goes back many years. An absolute case of having a policy in name that it does not enforce in anyway shape or form."

Several parents and players brought similar complaints to the board a year ago at the Feb. 23, 2015, meeting, saying at that time that they or their children were wrongly treated.

At the same meeting, supporters of the coaches and the baseball program also spoke out in favor of their work.

Fischetti declined to comment on the lawsuit, while District spokesperson Suzanne Turner and Board Attorney Phil Stern did not respond to requests for comment.

The lawsuit comes just a few weeks after another parent, Randy Nathan, addressed the board and made public the results of several complaints he had filed against the baseball coaches and the district's findings that acts of harassment, intimidation, and bullying had occurred.

The board will consider re-hiring Fischetti for the upcoming baseball season at its next meeting on Monday, Feb. 22. It will also take a final vote on several policies related to coaching conduct and sportsmanship.