Investigation digs into hostile behavior at high school
Last updated 1/24/2008 at Noon
A selection of 20 to 30 employees of Fallbrook Union High School District (FUHSD), both present and past, were questioned as part of an investigation to determine whether a hostile work environment has existed in the district for the past 10 to 12 years.
Sources report that a complaint filed in 2007 necessitated interviews with a select group of teachers, principals and classified staff members to determine the validity of the claim.
“There is one teacher who has taken vicious, humiliating actions against many other employees in the district,” said one employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “He has no conscience and is malicious. He has the other teachers intimidated and they are afraid to stand up to him.”
Robert “Bob” Price, former FBI agent and owner of ESI International in San Diego, was the investigator who questioned current and former staff members specifically about inappropriate actions, comments and “bullying” tactics that may have been used by the employee, who reportedly has had a longstanding leadership role in the Fallbrook High School Teacher’s Association (union).
“The investigator was looking for evidence that this man’s actions were malicious in nature,” the employee said. “To me, it’s pretty clear that this person is filled with hate and animosity.”
The investigation was estimated to have taken between four and six months to complete. A synopsis of the report was presented to governing board members in Closed Session at the January 14 board meeting, along with a rebuttal from the teacher accused of wrongdoing.
Attorney Woody Merrill of Best, Best & Krieger, a law firm that provides services to the district, is assumed to have been the legal counsel who presented the information contained in the investigative report to governing board members.
While Merrill would not verify the specific case he was working on for FUHSD, he did confirm that he has been retained to provide advice on a matter that involves employees within the district.
Merrill said that, in general, for him to be involved, “an employee or group of employees would have had to have filed a complaint and a form of litigation would have had to be initiated.”
When asked if he was familiar with investigator Price and the type of service he provides to school districts, Merrill said, “
is known as an investigator with experience who has worked for a variety of agencies.”
When contacted by phone, Price said he would not release any information pertaining to the investigation without the consent of his client – in this case, the school district.
When the Board of Trustees began the Open Session sector of the January 14 meeting, the status of the item in question, listed as “Closed Session, Item C – Employee-Discipline/Dismissal/Release,” was reported out as “no action taken.”
Since the teacher implicated in the investigation is said to be one of the union activists who organized the 2006 election campaign of new board members Bill O’Connor, Michael Schulte and Marc Steffler, at least two of the individuals questioned in the investigation voiced concern about whether a conflict of interest will prevent [the three] from taking appropriate action on the matter.
“[Fallbrook] is a good school district in a great community, but it just doesn’t reach its potential due to people like this,” a former district employee said. “Younger, newer teachers are floundering because there is a climate and culture that is unhealthy.”
If an environment of harassment exists and no action is taken by the governing board to resolve the matter, it is possible that a complaint could then be filed with the Office of Civil Rights/US Department of Education.
A hostile work environment can exist when unwelcome comments or conduct, based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics, are made by an employee, contractor, vendor or guest and unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
For an individual, it can mean being lied about behind their back and feeling like they always have to be “on guard.” The victim can be anyone affected by the conduct, not just the individual at whom the offensive conduct is directed.