Stephanie Woodford, the principal of Lakewood Elementary School in St. Petersburg, has settled her lawsuit with her former employer, Hillsborough County Public Schools.
Woodford was fired in 2017 as human resources chief for Hillsborough schools. At the time, chief of staff Alberto Vazquez told the Tampa Bay Times that she had violated a district policy against saying false or derogatory things about colleagues. With that statement, Woodford alleged, Vazquez defamed her and she named him in the suit.
She also alleged she was fired for blowing the whistle on wrongdoing by School Board members and staff.
Vazquez left the district at the end of 2017 for another job in Connecticut. The district ran up more than $220,000 in legal bills to defend against Woodford’s suit, largely by working to disprove her allegations of corruption.
The suit was headed to an appeals court when the two sides settled in late June.
The district agreed to pay another $15,000 in legal fees, with all but $100 of it going to Woodford’s attorney. Woodford dismissed the suit “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be re-litigated. The district said it has prevailed.
“We are confident that if this case moved even one step further in the legal process, it would have cost taxpayers more than $15,000 in legal fees for our district,” the district said in a statement.
Woodford, who served under former superintendent MaryEllen Elia, is not the only administrator to have battled the district in court while taking another job in neighboring Pinellas.
Dallas Jackson, the former principal of Sligh Middle School near Sulphur Springs, still has a pending lawsuit stemming from his transfer in 2015 to Brandon Alternative School.
According to the lawsuit, which alleges discrimination, the district accused Jackson of withdrawing a 15-year-old student from the rolls at Sligh, which is against the law.
Jackson was transferred to Brandon Alternative School, as principal, and was later named as an assistant principal of the alternative school. He contends the district demoted him even though “similarly situated non-black principals employed by defendant have had complaints against them alleging the same violation, but did not receive a demotion.”
Despite the dispute about the withdrawn student, and other complaints from teachers about the way he ran Sligh, Jackson got a job in Pinellas as principal of John Hopkins Middle School.
There was friction at Hopkins too. In late 2018, the Pinellas district moved Jackson to a job in the administration, focusing on teacher recruitment. More recently, he was moved to Pinellas Technical College – Clearwater to work as a post-secondary career specialist.
Neither Woodford nor Jackson could be reached Friday for comment.
Times reporter Megan Reeves contributed to this report. Contact Marlene Sokol at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @Marlenesokol.