It seems like 2010 was an eternity ago. A devastating earthquake rocked Haiti. The Hurt Locker won an Oscar. The controversial “don’t ask / don’t tell” law was repealed. And Joe Palazzolo blew the whistle on various wrongdoings at Arlington Heights High School.
Palazzolo has been fighting the Fort Worth school district in and out of court ever since. Before he was awarded $2.4 million by a Wise County jury last year, the district offered to settle. The former assistant principal turned down the deal because part of the settlement was to stick him in a warehouse job instead of on a school campus.
But last month, it was Palazzolo who offered a settlement and the school board that refused it.
Palazzolo has two additional lawsuits pending against his former employer. Last March he filed a defamation/slander suit against former Superintendent Walter Dansby, stemming from the board’s closed-door discussion of his case that was surreptitiously recorded and then uploaded onto the district’s website. In September he filed suit alleging that the board violated the open-meetings act when trustees made the decision to appeal the Wise County verdict without either public discussion or a public vote.
Fort Worth Weekly obtained parts of the document outlining Palazzolo’s offer to the district but never learned the dollar figure proposed by Palazzolo’s attorney. The offer would have settled all three lawsuits and cost the district significantly less than the $4 million to $5 million the district might have to cough up, counting the whistleblower award, the two other suits, and the roughly $500,000 in attorneys’ fees the district was ordered to pay to Palazzolo’s various legal representatives. He offered an alternative: He would walk away from all the money if the district would reinstate him as an assistant principal. In both cases, he was willing to sign a mutual non-disparagement agreement.
Before the board rejected the offers, attorneys for the district tried to remove embattled trustee Ann Sutherland from the room, because she testified on behalf of Palazzolo at trial. She refused to leave, and the board ended the discussion.
The board says legal fees they’ve incurred in fighting Palazzolo are covered by insurance. Linda LaBeau, who is running against longtime board member Judy Needham, believes the district has maxed out its insurance policy and will have to pay the settlement and fees out of its general fund if the verdict is upheld.
A school district spokesperson said the district couldn’t answer the Weekly’s questions because the staff is on spring break.