Former Weston schools employee slaps district with $5M defamation lawsuit
The suit, filed on Feb. 27, names the Weston Board of Education, Superintendent William McKersie, and Human Resources Director Lewis Brey as defendants in the case.
In the lawsuit, former schools transportation coordinator David Lustberg claims he was smeared by McKersie after the superintendent sent an email last spring to families and staff explaining that Lustberg had been fired after allegedly stealing thousands of dollars worth of fuel from the Board of Education fuel pumps to use in his personal vehicles. Lustberg was also removed from his role as coach of the Weston High School softball team.
“The defamatory email, which McKersie indicated he was legally obligated to send, accused Lustberg — in an extraordinarily public and harmful manner — of criminal conduct and stealing gasoline from the District over a period of years,” the lawsuit says.
Lustberg turned himself in to Weston police on May 16 for an arrest warrant for second-degree larceny. The case has since been sealed, according to court records. Rocco Popoli, a former school grounds foreperson, also turned himself in on a warrant in connection with the theft.
However, Lustberg’s lawsuit claims the district did not do a thorough investigation into allegations of stolen fuel.
“Upon information and belief, the sum and substance of the investigation was a review of the videotapes and computer records of gas fill-ups,” the lawsuit says.
Lustberg also claims his work during his tenure resulted in cost savings for the town and public schools.
“During the 10-year period he was Transportation Coordinator, and because of his efforts, the BOE achieved cost savings of some $2.3 million in the in-town busing and special education transportation programs,” the lawsuit says.
Lustberg regularly worked “off-hours” and regularly used his personal vehicle for work duties, the suit states.
According to the filing, Lustberg was entitled to receive mileage reimbursements for personal vehicle use at IRS-specified rates, but rarely submitted expense reports because he worked 50-hour weeks and “preparing reimbursement forms was burdensome, time-consuming and ‘not worth the effort.’ ”
After realizing how much he was driving his personal vehicle for school business, Lustburg made the decision “to seek reimbursement by gas, with the belief at the time that he had full authority to do so because of his autonomous control over the Transportation Department,” the suit states.
At his termination hearing, Lustberg says he offered to repay the cost of fuel he had used and now understood the preferred procedure. However, due to McKersie’s public accusations, the lawsuit alleges the termination hearing was unfair and that the decision had already been made to fire Lustberg.
Lustberg is now seeking $5 million in damages.
Weston schools attorney Tom Mooney said the Board of Education has since been served the lawsuit.
“The claims made in the complaint are without merit, and the Board of Education will defend vigorously against those claims,” Mooney said.
Given the matter involves pending litigation, Mooney declined to comment further.