PITTSBURGH – A Pittsburgh kindergarten teacher who finds herself a defendant in a defamation lawsuit for alleging sexual harassment against a fellow educator says the unwelcome smacking, grabbing and other inappropriate conduct really did happen, according to her counterclaim filed earlier this summer.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Linden K-5 Elementary teacher observer and evaluator Bennett Kotkiewicz, filed her defamation lawsuit in May "to discourage victims of her unwelcome and unwanted sexual harassment from complaining" Linden kindergarten teacher Suzannah Cleaver said in her June 12 counterclaim. 

"Plaintiff, who at the time was in a supervisory capacity to Cleaver, grabbed Cleaver's breast, and likewise smacked Cleaver's buttocks," said the counterclaim, which added its own charges of battery, retaliation and sexual harassment.

"Plaintiff's conduct was unwanted and unwelcome. Plaintiff's conduct was offensive to Cleaver and would be offensive to a reasonable person. Plaintiff's conduct was because of Cleaver's gender. Plaintiff's conduct was severe and pervasive and it created a hostile working environment because of Clever's sex. Moreover, plaintiff made Cleaver's agreement to engage in plaintiff's sex-based misconduct a term or condition of Cleaver's employment."

Cleaver's counterclaim, filed in Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, demands a judgment against Kotkiewicz, compensatory and punitive damages exceeding $70,000 and "costs and attorney fees for defending plaintiff's frivolous lawsuit that was brought for an improper purpose," the counterclaim said.

Kotkiewicz, currently on administrative leave, claims that Cleaver's sexual harassment allegations "are pure fabrication and completely false," that she denied to the school's principal that those events occurred and she has "no idea where this was coming from," according to her complaint.

Kotkiewicz, who also teaches fifth-grade math at Linden and has been employed 17 years by the Pittsburgh school district, is seeking unspecified damages "in an amount in excess of the jurisdictional limits of this court," as well as punitive damages, interest and costs, according to the lawsuit.

The case stems from a disagreement earlier in the spring over Kotkiewicz's classroom evaluation of Cleaver, in which Kotkiewicz identified "growth areas" and referred to "poor performance" in Cleaver's classroom instruction. Cleaver disagreed with Kotkiewicz's assessment, claiming Kotkiewicz "did not even attend the full lesson that she purported to have evaluated," according to the counterclaim.

It wasn't just the evaluation that Cleaver disagreed with, according to the counterclaim, which quoted an email she sent to Kotkiewicz objecting to the evaluation rating of  "basic" she'd received.

"I'm insulted and quite frankly feel uncomfortable because you grabbed my boob and smacked my butt, and I'm not real sure how to deal with this, because in the 11 years that I have been a teacher, I have never been rated so low, or [h]ad to deal with my rater putting their hands on me," the complaint stated, quoting Cleaver's email.

The counterclaim also described other incidents of alleged inappropriate conduct by Kotkiewicz, including comments made during a March 16 meeting. A few days later, Kotkiewicz slapped Cleaver's buttocks when they passed in the doorway of the school's main office, according to the counterclaim.

Cleaver complained to the school principal and suggested a meeting with a union representative. Kotkiewicz was placed on administrative leave until further notice on April 4. 

"Since that day, representatives from the Pittsburgh School District have repeatedly attempted to question plaintiff about her unwelcome and unwanted sexual conduct, but plaintiff has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the school district's investigation," the counterclaim said.

Kotkiewicz claims in her lawsuit that Cleaver's allegations have injured Kotkiewicz's professional and personal reputation, her standing in the community, and that she has suffered humiliation, emotional distress, mental anguish and suffering. 

"Cleaver's conduct was malicious, outrageous, willful and oppressive because of her vengeful personal motive and/or reckless indifference to Kotkiewicz's rights," Kotkiewicz said in her complaint.

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