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Former Hartford Aide Accuses Councilman of Sexual Harassment In Federal Court

A former city council aide is suing Thomas “T.J.” Clarke, a member of Hartford city council and its former president, alleging that he sexually harassed and discriminated against her.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Hartford, alleging violations of the federal Civil Rights Act.

The aide, Kristen Squillante, first accused Clarke of impropriety in December 2017, when she filed a complaint with the state’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. In a lawsuit filed Monday, Squillante’s attorney painted a portrait of Clarke’s behavior similar to the earlier complaint: Clarke, then council president, sent Squillante crude text messages and inquired often about her boyfriend, transgressions Squillante stomached because of the power imbalance between herself and the “second highest ranking official in the City of Hartford,” her attorney, DeVaughn Ward, wrote.

Clarke declined to comment.

Clarke made crass comments about Squillante’s appearance, Ward wrote, noting she’d gained weight after she began dating her boyfriend, and that she looked “worn out” when dressed casually or without makeup. Attached to the complaint are screenshots of text conversations between Squillante and Clarke; in one exchange, Clarke told Squillante, who was leaving for vacation, not to “slip up and send me any see thru bikini pics.”

Squillante, who worked as councilman Jimmy Sanchez’s aide, resigned in 2017.

Her complaint also names Olga Colon, a city employee, and John Bazzano, the city clerk, as defendants. Both contributed to a hostile work environment within City Hall, Squillante alleged, which, in her telling, was riven by innuendo, petty squabbles and name-calling.

Colon and Bazzano referred questions to Howard Rifkin, the city’s corporation counsel. Rifkin, who was observing a religious holiday Monday, could not be reached for comment.

Squillante’s lawsuit opens a second legal front for the city, which is defending two council members entangled in sexual harassment allegations. Councilwoman rJo Winch is also being sued in federal court by a city employee represented by Ward. Kenneth Blue, a supervisor in the Department of Public Works, said he was sexually harassed by Winch’s aide, Kelly Kirkley-Bey. Blue accused Winch of doing nothing to stop it.

Squillante never told Sanchez that Clarke harassed her, Ward wrote in the complaint. She did, however, tell him about a spat with Colon; while Sanchez encouraged she go to human resources, Squillante demurred, Ward wrote, because “she feared the complaint would not be taken seriously and she would be subjected to retaliation.”

When Squillante filed the CHRO complaint last December, Clarke said he sensed “political agendas at work.”

“That said, it was never my intention to upset, offend, or make anyone uncomfortable,” he said, “and to that extent that I might have done so, I apologize profusely.”

At the time, Mayor Luke Bronin called Clarke’s behavior “inexcusable from a person in a position of authority,” and called for him to step down as president. Several of Clarke’s colleagues on the council said they were “shocked, disturbed and extremely disappointed.”

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