A Hillhouse High School assistant principal whose allegations of grade-altering led to a controversial investigation is now suing the school board itself.
Shirley Love Joyner, who is currently on sick leave from her job as assistant principal at Hillhouse, filed the suit last Thursday in state court. She claims the board failed to protect her from retaliation when she blew the whistle on her principal.
The suit is the latest development in a politically charged case involving allegations of grade-changing at Hillhouse. Principal Kermit Carolina, a key figure in the probe, has denied any wrongdoing. The lawyer leading the probe on behalf of the school board, Floyd Dugas, said Wednesday that he is writing a draft of a final investigation report, which he had originally expected to complete last month. (He said he kept finding more avenues to investigate.)
Dugas said Wednesday he has agreed to defend the Board of Ed against Joyner’s suit. That means he’ll be both investigating charges against Carolina through the probe—and potentially defending Carolina’s actions in the suit.
In her suit, Joyner claims Carolina ordered her to inflate grades and attendance records, then disciplined her for speaking out about his “unethical practices and abuse of authority.” She charged the Board of Ed with violating a whistleblower law, Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 31-51m, which protects employees who “disclose employer’s illegal activities or unethical practices.”
Joyner claimed she was given extra responsibilities, had her communication device confiscated, and was “humiliated” by Carolina after she refused to follow his orders. The suit, filed in Superior Court by Attorney Joseph Garrison of New Haven, asks for reinstatement of her previous duties and unspecified monetary damages.
Attorney Mike Jefferson, who represents Carolina in the grade-changing probe, dismissed Joyner’s complaint as “a frivolous lawsuit” and called the charges “absolutely unfounded.” Will Clark, spokesman for the Board of Ed, declined to comment on the suit.
Joyner outlined her grievances this way in the lawsuit:
She said since she began working for the school district in 1978, she has served under 11 principals as a teacher, counselor and building administrator. She said she always had an “exemplary” attendance record and was a “a cooperative, loyal, punctual, task-oriented employee” who put in extra hours and was never “insubordinate.”
She described running into a conflict when then-Assistant Principal Carolina was promoted to principal, and became her boss in September 2011. At the time, Joyner’s duties included supervising the guidance department and the secretarial staff.
Joyner claims that when Carolina came along, he “approved and/or ordered” a number of “improper and unethical transactions” between September and November of that year. They included: “improper grade inflation, manipulation of attendance records, grants of false work credits, and credit grants issued before the end of the semester.”
Joyner said Carolina punished her when she refused to take part in these activities. Joyner described the alleged retribution this way: “her supervision of all secretarial staff has been taken away from her and reassigned; her work responsibilities have been degraded by assignment of collateral duties more extensive than her peers; her supervision of guidance staff has been compromised; she is the only administrator to have had her communication device taken away from her, with potential consequences to her safety; and, she has been publicly humiliated.”
Joyner said the dispute culminated on Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, when Carolina accused her of “dereliction of duty, insubordination, and unprofessional behavior.”
“l want you out of here.” Carolina told her, according to the suit. She took that to mean Carolina was “ordering” her to leave Hillhouse and transfer to another school.
Joyner was never officially disciplined through a disciplinary hearing; instead she went through an unofficial, unauthorized “hearing,” according to the suit. She continues to be employed at Hillhouse, though she is currently on sick leave.
Joyner did not return a message left on her home phone Wednesday; her lawyer could not be reached for comment.
Attorney Jefferson said the lawsuit leaves the district “in a pickle” because Dugas (pictured) is now arguing both sides of the case.
“The fact of the matter is that Mr. Dugas spearheaded an investigation into this matter”—and is now defending the district against those same allegations, Jefferson noted.
Dugas said he’s able to handle both cases.
“At this point, [Joyner has] only sued the school board,” not Carolina directly. “Obviously, she’s alleging actions on the part of Mr. Carolina,” but “I will be defending the school board in that.”
Jefferson noted that Carolina would be a likely witness if Joyner’s case proceeds to that stage.
It’s not clear if that would be a problem—Dugas’ probe may find Carolina at fault, or may end up clearing his name.
Dugas said he has completed all his interviews and has moved on to writing the final investigation report. He declined to give a set deadline, but “I’m certainly hoping to wrap it up this week or next.”
As for the suit, Jefferson said “we consider it an act of desperation, but that’s what the courts are for—to resolve these kinds of matters.”
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