Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fayette Transportation Director Kiser Sued for Retaliation Against Whistle Blower

King v Silberman, Kiser, Goodlett, Durbin, Lane and BOE
Fayette Circuit Court

Suit Makes Civil and Constitutional Claims

New Superintendent to Launch 
Independent Investigation of Numerous Transportation Complaints

OK, boys and girls. Let's start with a little Pop Quiz. Please select the best answer to the following questions.
Imagine you are a Transportation Supervisor for your local school district. You witness a reliable 28-year bus driver discussing with district mechanics a problem with the wheel chair lift on the bus she uses to transport special needs children to school everyday . What do you do?

a. Learn about the problem so that you might assist your driver in solving it, thus protecting the children who use the lift.

b. Tell the driver's assistant that she should help the driver "pumping up" the lift so that her breasts might grow to the size of the driver's; ask the driver why she never had breast reduction surgery; repeatedly ask the driver to show you her breasts saying, "Can I see your titties?"; rub your own breasts and tell the driver that you  "always wondered what they looked like"; tell the driver that any more than a mouthful is a waste and that you "will talk about penises tomorrow."


Imagine you are a Transportation Manager and a reliable 28-year veteran complains that a supervisor is creating a sexually hostile environment in the bus garage. What do you do?

a.  Follow board of education policy, investigate, and if you determine that an employee is acting inappropriately, correct them.

b.  Tell the driver that her complaints about the supervisor are "much ado about nothing."

Imagine you are that same Transportation Supervisor again. Your boss has dismissed a complaint against you for sexual harassment.  What do you do?

a.  Count your lucky stars that you still have your job, and take care not to mess up again.

b.  Look for every opportunity to bully and torment your accuser; board the driver's bus and make it clear that you will be reviewing video tape looking for evidence to catch her doing something wrong.

Imagine that you are the District Transportation Director and you hear that the driver, whose complaint was denied, began gathering photographic evidence of favoritism you and your staff show to some employees - like allowing only certain employees multiple extended breaks during the day. You learn that the driver has successfully filed an EEOC complaint and received a "Notice of Right to Sue."  What do you do?

a.  Ascertain the facts and attempt to resolve the issues by ensuring that all employees are treated fairly and equitably.     

b.  Call the driver in and accuse her of harassment for taking pictures in a public place; tell the driver that she "will be dealt with"; begin a campaign of retaliation, singling her out for scrutiny by reviewing her video tapes dozens of times; claim that these reviews were being done randomly; call the driver into the office for a good brow-beating more than a dozen times; try to get her to accept a three-day suspension without pay (for eating ice on the non-air conditioned bus in hot summer weather); threaten her with a civil lawsuit; tell her that you will set up a meeting with the superintendent, but don't do so; call the local police to meet her bus and help harass and intimidate her for her whistle blowing about the sexual harassment; and, following a minor fender bender, deny her permission to attend to the immediate health concerns of her daughter - all of this eventually affecting the driver's own health.  

Imagine that you are the superintendent of schools in this district and you learn that a whistle blowing driver wanted to meet with you. What do you do?

a.  Meet with the driver to learn about her complaints and resolve the issues according to district policy.

b.  Send school district law enforcement personnel to the driver's home, and when she finally resigns, accept her resignation without investigating the underlying complaints.

So, how'd you do on this quiz (the language for which was drawn directly from court documents)?

If you chose answer "a" to each of the questions above, then you probably understand state law and school district policy. Or perhaps, you're just a reasonable person who wants to see the school district respect its employees and conduct its business in a fair manner.

If you chose answer "b" to the questions, then your head is probably somewhere else.

Final grading of this quiz will take place in the Fayette County Circuit Court room of Judge Kim Bunnell when the jury weighs the evidence in King v Silberman at some point in the future. King's suit, filed only nine days into the term of new Fayette County Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton seeks damages "in an amount in excess of the court's jurisdictional amount." That sounds like a lot.

Named in the suit are: 
Former FCPS Superintendent Stu Silberman
Transportation Director John Kiser
Transportation Supervisor Deborah Goodlett
Transportation Supervisor Deborah Durbin
Transportation Manager Steve Lane, and
The Fayette County Board of Education

In six counts, King claims the district illegally violated state law. 
Count One: retaliation
Count Two: Violation of KRS 61.102 (whistleblower statute)
Count Three: breach of contract
Count Four: constructive discharge
Count Five: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Count Six: Arbitrary and Capricious Acts in Violation of the Kentucky Constitution

King seeks unspecified damages for mental pain and suffering, punitive damages, court costs and attorney's fees, trial by jury, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest and other appropriate relief.

This suit is only one in a long list of complaints that have surfaced from the transportation department in recent months. We've heard of numerous grievances that die in the department without being forwarded up the chain of command, that instead of trying to resolve issues the district tried to prevent former FCPS attorney Brenda Allen from representing bus drivers, cases of overt disrespect of school district personnel, and more KSN&C did not report. Other folks have heard about troubling issues too.

Even before he took office - and before he knew this lawsuit would be filed - FCPS Superintendent Tom Shelton heard about complaints involving the transportation department. In an early show of decisive leadership Shelton has decided to look into the situation. He informed KSN&C yesterday that he is in the process of identifying an appropriate individual to conduct an independent review of the transportation department.  "I talked with staff right as I started on September 1 and began the planning for the review, Shelton told KSN&C. "We are in process now of negotiating with individuals to get the review started," he said.

More details will be provided once a process is defined. For a guy who's only been on the job for two weeks, this is a very strong statement about how Shelton intends to conduct business in Fayette County.

Sources inside the department of transportation tell KSN&C that Shelton's response is like a fresh breeze that will go a long way toward making all drivers breathe a little easier - knowing that "their concerns will, at last, be heard." 


Anonymous said...

And, yet, Mr. Silberman is still viewed as one of the better superintendents by those who are teaching a new crop of teachers. The end never, never, never, never, never, justifies the means.

We saw this coming....Why did we trust Mr. Silberman? Why do we continue to deify him? Will there ever be a fall from grace?

Anonymous said...

I am a driver. We beggged for Stu's help. He never came through for us.

Anonymous said...

Is Mr. Silberman still the most effective superintendent? He presided over this mess. His list of bad moves continues:

1) Peggy Petrelli
2) Michael Ernst
3) Jon Kiser
4) Principal of Deep Springs Elementary

The list goes on....How much will this lawsuit cost the public?

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It makes me wonder how many more FC employees have been treated like this by Supervisors or by Stu but can not afford a lawsuit or feared for their jobs?

Anonymous said...

Pleased to hear that sources say Dr. Shelton's response to transportation complaints is like a "fresh breeze." Isn't this a not-so-subtle indictment of Mr. Silberman?

Richard Day said...

September 15, 2011 10:41 PM: You wrote: "And, yet, Mr. Silberman is still viewed as one of the better superintendents by those who are teaching a new crop of teachers. The end never, never, never, never, never, justifies the means."

You are correct, I have predicted that historians wlll be kind to Silberman. Seems inconsistent, doesn't it? But my sense is that historians look broadly at a person's achievements and factors of personality take a secondary role.

For example, I get the sense from my readings that Cora Wilson Stewart was a major pain in the butt to work for, owing to her personality and her single-minded focus on healing the "disease" of illiteracy. Her brothers said she was "born with her mind made up" and didn't care much for the contrary opinions of others. She was known as "The General" as a child and kicked a substantial amount of east Ky teacher butt on her way to reforming the schools in Rowan Co.

She is remembered for her accomplishments while all of the difficulties that attended that result tend to take a back seat. Now, maybe it shouldn't be that way, but it is. You can probably think of other historical figures who accomplished worthwhile things by questionable means. Historians tend to think of them as colorful.

September 17, 2011 8:15 AM: Not the most effective. But I have wondered aloud if he might be third. I have also added that my research is not definitive yet. There is still too much that I don't know to make a solid claim. If I had to guess, right now, I'd rank him about third behind Cassidy and Potts. But there are others less known to me who, upon further study, might make me change my mind.

And to all: Yes, this is something of an indictment of Silberman. It clearly goes on the bad side of the ledger.

But it's a big ledger.

Anonymous said...

It's really a shame that the rules only apply to some but. not to all. Do as I say. not as I do!

Anonymous said...

I am a demoralized teacher, yet I feel for my bus drivers. Each time they take us on a school field trip, I have to evaluate them on a form. Who am I to do this? They go through much more in the course of the day than I can imagine.

Something is very very wrong with our school system. I am too afraid to speak up so I use this blog. I want these drivers to win their suit.

Richard, will these lawsuits be published in the newspaper? How can teh Herald-Leader continue to suppress the truth?

Thank you for publishing my views.

Anonymous said...

Seems like to me dealing with the kids and driving, that alone, would be stressful enough. It shouldn't be the people you work for making up stuff just to make your job tougher then it needs to be.

Anonymous said...

Finally things will be addressed!

Richard Day said...

September 19, 2011 3:05 PM: Yes, and that's why it's so important to select one's superintendent very wisely. You end up living with their business philosophies as much as you do their educational philosophies.

September 19, 2011 7:35 PM: Your appreciation for the drivers is fitting, but I wouldn't go overboard. Drivers may have their hands full, but not more so than teachers.

I don't know what justifications the Herald-Leader uses when it chooses not to publish the Hurley-Richards decision, or the fact of this first suit. How many more suits will it take? One more? Two more?

The way I hear it, FCPS transportation could be sued two more times before the week is out.

September 19, 2011 9:37 PM: True

September 19, 2011 11:37 PM: You have focused in on the most important part of the story.

In my conversations with Tom Shelton he signaled very clearly that he wants a fully transparent and above-board operation. The folks in Daviess County praise him for that approach and it will indeed be a breath of fresh air for Fayette County if teachers and staff feel like their concerns will be heard. That doesn't mean that they will always get their way. I suspect Shelton will do many of the same things and take many of the same positions that Silberman did. But knowing that one's leader hears them gives the faculty and staff the respect they deserve and breeds a more cooperative environment.

Shelton has a very ambitious 100 day plan. He's going to lots of places to listen to lots of folks. It is up to teachers and bus drivers....and secretaries, and central office personnel, and administrators, and parents, and everyone who cares about the schools to find an opportunity to meet Shelton and make their voice heard.

Anonymous said...

I am tired of watching them spend to much money for THREE cameras, on one bus, when our children don't have enough textbooks at school. Come on now, is THREE cameras really nessacery? I believe it's a waste of taxpayers dollars.It also puts drivers in fear when driving, instead of being confident. If you hit a treelimb, you lose, go home without pay. Also can anyone explain, the new black boxes on the buses? Are they really to protect the kids or harrass the drivers and monitors?

Anonymous said...

I don't think they should bother the drivers and monitors. Have they forgetten THEY are the ones out there getting the job done!!!
A friend once told me to "Learn to Pick your Fights." Maybe someone should tell them this.

Anonymous said...

I really want these guys to win, Richard.

I want teachers to feel empowered, I want teh drivers to feel empowered, I want paraprofessionals to feel empowered. I want people to feel they can speak up without being punished.

You say Tom Shelton has an open door policy. If he does, why doesn't he broadacst this new openness? Or is he afraid that this kind of "Glasnost" could open the flood gates? I can only wonder and remain optimistic.

Richard Day said...

Well, I'm all in favor of "trust but verify" but you might want to give the guy a few minutes. He just got here - and he also has a school district to run.

My comments come from having reviewed a draft of Shelton's 100 day plan for entering the district. Once the board reviews it, I imagine it will become quite public. It begins by focusing on listening and learning about the district.

My advice: Make sure he hears from you.

Anonymous said...

The Herald Leader has broken the story.

There is a God!

Anonymous said...

So pleased to hear that Brenda Dinkens Allen will be representing the drivers. More lawsuits set to come.

Stu Silberman, You can't be an educational reformer when you don't treat your staff with dignity and respect.

The end never justifies the means. Never.

Richard Day said...

Yes, the Herald-Leader ran the story this morning and that's a good thing for public accountability. But I'm not sure the term "broken" applies when one is 12 days late and someone else has already published the story.

May I humbly submit that KSN&C broke this story.

...and (September 21, 2011 7:31 AM) yes, there are at least two more coming. You heard that first at KSN&C too.

Anonymous said...

Thank God! Somebody needs to go look at case file 5:99-cv-121 in federal court. Same ol' same ol' if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

mr day when is this case ever going to court.can you update us on its status please . what happened to doing somthing about john kiser .work place threats are the invetion of kiser . just a update please on the king suit

Richard Day said...

I'm not up-to-speed on the progress of the case. I really need to sit down with Brenda Allen and get caught up. As for whether the district is going to do anything about Kiser's abuses....apparently not.