In the first round of lawsuits that may be about to hit the district over what he believes are retaliatory actions taken against him for reporting violations of the law at Arlington Heights High School last year, former Heights assistant principal Joe Palazzolo, through his attorney Jason Smith, today filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Fort Worth school district in the 271st Judicial District Court in Wise County.
“This has nothing to do with my potential termination,” Palazzolo said, “this is a whistleblower lawsuit brought because I was retaliated against for reporting violations of law to the proper authorities.” The suit states that Palazzolo “does not challenge any proposed termination in this suit as such may be subject to an administrative hearing.” The issue of termination will be decided at Tuesday night’s board meeting. (“Palazzolo’s Head is on Johnson’s Platter,” Oct. 24 blog.)
If the board votes to uphold Superintendent Melody Johnson’s recommendation that Palazzolo be fired “for cause,” the next step in that process will be a hearing before a Texas Education Agency hearings examiner. That process could drag on for months but it will be a much fairer process than Palazzolo has been through with the district so far, said Larry Shaw, head of the United Educators Association.
The whistleblower lawsuit will proceed regardless of tomorrow night’s outcome, Palazzolo said.
The suit states that Palazzolo “reported that employees of the [school district] engaged in falsification of student attendance records, inappropriate sexual relationships, misuse of booster club funds, disciplinary policies that had a disparate discriminatory impact against minority students and inappropriate sexual comments in the presence of students.
“Such reports demonstrated violations of laws including the Texas Education Code and [its] regulations … the Texas Penal Code and FWISD Board Policy.” It further states that Palazzolo made the reports to the TEA, the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office and “appropriate FWISD officials.”
TEA and the District Attorney’s office both have opened investigations into certain of the wrongdoings Palazzolo reported. All of the allegations of illegal activities at the school were first reported in this paper in August and were upheld by a district internal investigation released last week. .” (Powder Keg at Arlington Heights High,” Aug. 11, “Vindication, Retaliation”, Oct. 20.)
The suit then lists the retaliatory measures taken against Palazzolo, including his first transfer away from Heights which had the effect of putting his daughter’s life in danger. “At the same time [that Palazzolo was first transferred] the district lifted a trespass warning against a parent who had threatened Palazzolo [for disciplining this parent’s daughter for cutting or disrupting classes] and allowed his daughter to return to Arlington Heights” even though she had been transferred to another school after having numerous infractions written against her. This put Palazzolo’s own daughter in danger, the suit states, as she was also threatened, according to Palazzolo, and his transfer away from Heights would leave him unable to “assure his daughter’s safety.”
(This parent has been the subject of much speculation among Palazzolo’s supporters that he was the person who signed a complaint against Palazzolo in late August resulting in the assistant principal being put on administrative leave with pay.
(The truth of that has not been established, but this reporter did hear a conversation on a speaker phone between the Rev. Kyev Tatum and the father in which the father said that he was called by a district administrator who promised him that “all of the infractions” against his daughter would be “wiped out,” that the ban against him returning to the Heights campus would be lifted and that “Mr. Palazzolo would never be a problem for Heights again.” The father refused to respond to Tatum’s question as to why the administrator made such a promise.)
Further, the lawsuit states that Palazzolo’s first transfer was to an “excess position” that paid less than his position at Heights and one that could be “eliminated for budgetary reasons” at any time — unlike Palazzolo’s position at Heights.
The district also “issued a negative performance appraisal in retaliation” as well, the suit states, which would have affected Palazzolo’s ability to receive raises. It further states, “Deputy Superintendent Pat Linares [now retired] indicated that [Palazzolo’s] performance appraisal should be corrected.” Which it was.
Calling the district’s actions “classic whistleblower retaliation aimed at punishing the person who reported illegal wrongdoing in an attempt to intimidate him and others,” the suit asks for unspecified damages for “lost wages, loss of employment benefits, pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, and loss of enjoyment of life … “ all as a result of the district’s actions. It further asks that he be reinstated to his position at Arlington Heights and that the district pay all of his legal fees and court costs.
In addition, in what may cause even more consternation for this administration, Smith has filed for discovery of documents and warns the district that it intends to use such documents in the trial.