Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Federal District Court ruled last week that Joseph Fierro, an Assistant Principal at District 75’s P.S. 12X has the right to continue his lawsuit against Principal Ronna Bleadon for sexual harassment and for refusing to take part in what he claims was an effort to destroy the careers of two teachers in his school. Fierro claims that his refusal to take part in the principal’s advances or in her scheme to unsatisfactorily rate two teachers caused his demotion to teacher and other damages.
The facts of the case, as described by Judge Scheindlin, portray an unhealthy work environment for Mr. Fierro and his attempt to change it.
Fierro started working as an assistant principal for P.S. 12X in 2002. P.S. 12X is comprised of approximately six school sites located in the Bronx with its administration primarily based at Lewis & Clark High School. Fierro and the rest of the administration all had offices at Lewis & Clark.
Fierro alleges that from the start of his employment at P.S. 12X, the principal, Ronna Bleadon, made inappropriate comments about how handsome he looked in a suit and how her husband was jealous of him because she constantly told him what a good job he was doing. During the first two years at P.S. 12X, Bleadon also made comments about Fierro's physical appearance in the presence of co-workers. For example, when he wore shorts to work during the summer months Bleadon commented that Fierro had great legs and asked whether he had been working out. Bleadon also told Fierro intimate details about her personal life, sharing her past experiences with an ex-husband.
In or about the fall of 2004, Bleadon repeatedly suggested that Fierro visit her home while her husband was on a business trip so that he could "keep her company." Bleadon directed these comments at him while at work, as well as during phone calls that she initiated after work-hours. Around that same time, Bleadon would "beckon him to her office by saying 'Come see mommy' or 'Come to Mama Bleadon' in front of other assistant principals." According to Fierro, Bleadon's comments and advances made him feel very uncomfortable and awkward.
Fierro also claims that he exercised his First Amendment right to free speech in or about the fall of 2004 when he refused "to participate in or facilitate Bleadon's campaigns to ruin the careers of two teachers whom Bleadon did not like. Fierro witnessed one of the two teachers -- Ms. Grey -- intercede in an altercation between two students. Bleadon directed Fierro to lie and state that he had seen Ms. Grey participate in the fight, but Fierro refused to do so. Bleadon directed Fierro to enter the second targeted teacher's classroom -- that of Mr. Simon -- and "find things for which the administration could give that teacher a 'U' rating. Fierro observed that teacher's classroom and did not find anything that warranted a "U" rating. He told Bleadon the same.
In the middle of the spring semester of 2005, Bleadon transferred Fierro against his will to West Side High School, another P12X school site. Due to this transfer, Fierro no longer had his own office, parking space, computer, and phone. He was separated from the other assistant principals of P12X who all remained at Lewis & Clark. Moreover, he had to travel a greater distance from his home to West Side than to Lewis & Clark. Following his transfer, Bleadon repeatedly called Fierro at West Side to ask him how he liked the transfer, commenting to him that he no longer had the "same comforts that you had here." When Fierro responded that he did not understand why he was transferred and no longer had his own office, Bleadon responded, "Well, you think about it." When he returned to Lewis & Clark for routine meetings with Bleadon, she would ask him whether he missed her or whether he was "ready to behave."
In or about August 2005, Fierro complained to Sharon Burnett, a Local Instructional Superintendent in District 75 who supervised P12X. He informed Burnett that he had been sexually harassed by Bleadon and felt that he had been retaliated against for rejecting her advances. Burnett spoke with Bonnie Brown and Dr. Susan Erber, Deputy Superintendent and Superintendent of District 75, respectively, regarding Fierro's complaints. Burnett then informed Fierro that he was being transferred to P753X -- a District 75 high school located in Brooklyn that was known to be one of the most dangerous schools in New York State.
Fierro protested that he had previously been stabbed twice during earlier placements at dangerous schools and did not want to be transferred. Moreover, he only had two more years until he was eligible for tenure at P12X and a transfer would significantly disrupt his progress. Nevertheless, Fierro was transferred to P753X "in retaliation for complaining about Bleadon's sexual harassment of him and about her retaliation against him for rebuffing her advances."
As a result of Bleadon's sexual harassment and her retaliatory acts, Fierro alleges that he suffered mental and physical distress, and he incurred costs associated with medical visits and medication. Additionally, he took a medical leave from work in the spring of 2006, and lost twenty days worth of wages. Fierro further alleges that, due to his distress, he was unable to undergo training in early 2005 to work with autistic children. This delay prevented him from obtaining employment in this field until very recently.
Fierro alleges that in retaliation for the filing of the instant suit the City of New York, the DOE, and Brown have pressured the principal of District 75 -- his current supervisor -- to terminate him. Specifically, the principal advised Fierro that he did not think that he would be retained as a teacher for the next academic year, despite the fact that two teachers with less seniority were not so advised.
While certain claims were dismissed Fierro has now the opportunity to prove, at trial, these allegations. No date has been set for trial.
JOSEPH FIERRO - against - THE CITY OF NEW YORK, et. al., 07 Civ. 11214 (SAS), UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57516, (July 30, 2008)