It’s not a big win, but it’s a win nonetheless and Joe Palazzolo needs a few these days. The former assistant principal and whistleblower at Arlington Heights High School here whose firing by Superintendent Melody Johnson was upheld recently by a Texas Education Agency hearing examiner, filed for unemployment benefits last month and his request has been approved by the Texas Workforce Commission. The district argued vigorously against benefits, submitting claims that Palazzolo was fired for violating school district policies including providing false information on his employment application, being a bully and creating a hostile work environment. Apparently the commission didn’t buy its arguments. “I was called this morning and told by the person who was handling my case that the commission ruled in my favor based on the fact that the documents provided to them by the district to support its claims were ‘hearsay, she-said-he-said’ evidence and didn’t rise to the level of firing offenses.”
“The decision speaks for itself,” said his attorney Jason Smith.
It is especially welcome, Palazzolo said, because it is a decision by a completely neutral agency, one that could look at the evidence presented against him without district politics getting in the way.
The next step along that route will be in Austin where his appeal of the hearing examiner’s decision to uphold his firing will be heard by the Commissioner of Education who has decided to hold a hearing on the case in Austin, a decision that board trustee Ann Sutherland, who voted against firing Palazzolo, thinks is highly significant. “The commissioner usually just rubberstamps hearing examiner decisions,” she said. The commissioner’s decision is final as far as administrative appeals go and then the door will be open for the district court whistleblower case to be heard. A scheduling conference for that case will be held Monday, Smith said.
Requests for comments from the district were not answered.