Fired maintenance worker sues Hillsborough district
During the 2012 Hillsborough County School Board election season, two school district employees lost their jobs over campaign-related activities.
Bus driver Carl Kosierowski, a candidate for the seat held by longtime incumbent Carol Kurdell, was fired for giving campaign bookmarks to coworkers and students. George Olmo, a maintenance worker, was fired because he gave employees in the Leto High School cafeteria petition forms in support of board member Susan Valdes.
The district said it was enforcing a policy that's designed to keep politics out of the workplace and the schools; and that progressive discipline would not have made sense because elections happen sporadically.
But critics of the district's management took note that Kosierowski was opposing a staunch supporter of superintendent MaryEllen Elia while Olmo was backing her most outspoken critic on the board.
Now one of the two former employees is taking his case to court.
Olmo, who worked for the district nearly 22 years, filed a 34-page complaint this month in U.S. District Court in Tampa that alleges the district was wrong to fire him and violated his right to free speech. He wants his job back, plus back pay and benefits.
Among the arguments:
Olmo,55, was accused of violating this school district policy:
"Support staff members should avoid situations in which their personal interests, activities, and associations conflict with the interests of the District. If such situations threaten an employee’s effectiveness within the school system, the Superintendent and/or School Board shall evaluate the impact of such interest, activity, or association upon the support staff member’s responsibilities. Support staff members may not campaign on school property during working hours on behalf of any political issue, or candidate for local, State, or National office."
Olmo contends the incident happened so early -- January -- that Valdes was not yet a candidate. In giving petitions to three employees, Olmo said he did not interfere with anyone's work. He did not ask the workers to sign the petitions on the spot -- just take them home. And he said he brought the petitions to Leto at the workers' request.
The district also alleged Olmo used a work vehicle improperly by going out of his way for a personal errand. The vehicle, it turned out, was stopped for under a minute. Olmo was a passenger and said a pedestrian had flagged them down to ask a question. And they took that route to avoid traffic.
Gradebook will publish the school district's response when it becomes available.