Former Hudson Middle assistant principal files EEOC complaint

HUDSON — A former assistant principal at Hudson Middle School has accused the Pasco County School District of harassing her for wanting to be a mom.

Buffey Simon, 32, filed a discrimination complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on May 21, one day before she was advised that she would not be reappointed to her post. She was removed from her school on May 23, and formally notified of her demotion on June 12.

The School Board approved her assignment to a teaching position at River Ridge Middle School on June 19.

"I think this has to do with the fact that I wanted to have a child and it's going to interfere with my 24/7 job," Simon, who is pregnant, said in a phone interview just before the board's vote. "They are removing me as an assistant principal and having me teach at a middle school . . . with a $20,000 pay cut. I doubt there's any getting back to being an AP."

District officials rejected the accusation, and said the district would mount a vigorous defense to Simon's complaint. Tina Tiede, assistant superintendent-secondary schools, said the decision to place Simon back in the classroom was based on her poor performance as an administrator.

The district would not release its written response to the EEOC, though, on the advice of human relations attorney Tammy Rattray.

The dispute has caught School Board members off-guard. They said they were unaware of Simon's complaint when they acted on Fiorentino's recommended appointments.

"It would have been an issue that we should have talked about before we approved it," board chairwoman Joanne Hurley said.

Board member Alison Crumbley acknowledged that the superintendent, and not the board, controls employee hiring. But when there's a question of discrimination, she added, "it should be on hold until the situation is resolved."

Hudson Middle principal Terry Holback spent much of the past year documenting deficiencies that she perceived in Simon's work, particularly in the areas of communication and attitude. Those problems were not limited to just one year or one principal, secondary schools executive director Beth Brown wrote in a Jan. 17 letter to Simon.

Former Hudson principals Steve Van Gorden and Phil Kupczyk "had concerns with your ability to effectively perform as an administrator," Brown wrote. They "felt that you do not fully support them and their goals for Hudson Middle School."

Simon's personnel file included one reprimand from Van Gorden for a 2007 period when she was missing too much work, and she lied about not returning to school after a district meeting, among other complaints.

Otherwise, Van Gorden's evaluations of Simon's performance were positive, as were Kupczyk's.

Van Gorden said he started working on an improvement plan with Simon, whom he noted was a new administrator at the time. He moved to a job in Zephyrhills before it could be completed, though, so he could not comment on her growth.

Kupczyk did not return calls seeking comment.

The bulk of the complaints about Simon's work appeared after Holback's appointment to the school.

In a series of letters, Holback cited several problems with Simon's performance. Among them, she said Simon gave too little notice for personal time off, failed to attend key staff meetings, and placed a student with disciplinary problems as an office assistant when that student was to be getting remedial reading instruction.

Holback also said that Simon's general attitude was one of displeasure with whatever principal led Hudson Middle.

After a year of coaching, Holback wrote in a May 12 letter to Simon, there had been "no observable evidence of improvement."

Those concerns prompted the demotion, district officials said, rather than approving Simon's request for a transfer.

Simon said the letters began coming in late September 2011, after she asked questions about her job description and work hours. Simon said she was trying to determine exactly what was expected of her, so she could fit her work requirements in with her family commitments.

Her supervisors saw the queries otherwise.

"The nature of the questions concern me because the role, tasks and duties of the assistant principal often require flexibility and dedication that exist outside of the minimum job description and normal hours," Brown wrote to Simon on Jan. 17. "Due to your inquiry, I offered for you to move back into a more structured position like a classroom environment."

Simon said that Holback began asking Simon whether she was pregnant after Simon asked about the expectations, at one point even pulling her out of a job candidate interview to do so. Holback then started detailing her criticisms of Simon's work.

"I believe I am being harassed because I have voiced my desire to have another child," Simon wrote in her EEOC complaint.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com, (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Former Hudson Middle assistant principal files EEOC complaint 06/30/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 30, 2012 1:02pm]

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