Palm Beach County’s public school system just paid $350,000 to settle a sexual discrimination case – one in which the principal of an alternative school demoted an assistant principal after she decided to get pregnant, telling her he preferred a male administrator with less experience in the position.
Now that the case is settled, one of these administrators is carrying on with their career, and the other has been required to resign from the school district as part of the settlement.
Can you guess which one is which?
It turns out the administrator who’s out of a job is the woman who federal officials say was the victim in the case — Anne Williams Dorsey, the former assistant principal of Turning Points Academy, a school for troubled teens.
Meanwhile, the man who demoted her, Darren Edgecomb, now principal of Palm Beach Central High School in Wellington, was never disciplined, reprimanded or formally investigated by the school district, even after two federal agencies found evidence of wrongdoing, the school district says.
More than six years after the incident, Dorsey said she is glad the case is resolved. But she says the fact that she is losing her job while Edgecomb’s actions weren’t considered for censure “is concerning.”
“I’m sure it raises eyebrows, to put it politely.” she said. “That’s a question that’s probably better suited to the taxpayers.”
Replaced by a man with less experience, Dorsey’s pay was cut
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Edgecomb decided to demote Dorsey from a higher-paying year-round assistant principal position to a lower-paying, partial-year post in 2010 after she announced she was trying to get pregnant.
Edgecomb later admitted that he told Dorsey that he thought another assistant principal, who was male, “would be a better fit” in the position, investigative records show.
She got official word of her demotion, federal officials say, as she lay in labor in 2011 at a hospital, giving birth to twins.
Edgecomb replaced her with a male assistant principal with less experience, one who she had trained. When she returned from maternity leave, she was required to remain in the lower position and noticed that her pay had been cut.
Dorsey alerted the school district’s equal employment opportunity officer but didn’t file an official complaint, records show.
Instead, she took her case to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in 2013 concluded that Dorsey’s demotion “violates (federal) prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination.”
“It is unlawful for (the school board) to impulsively move a pregnant female employee who is serving in a 260-duty day position to a 226-duty day position solely because the employee is unable to work summer school as a result of her pregnancy,” the EEOC concluded.
The school board settled with the Justice Department this month, agreeing to pay Dorsey $350,000 and re-train all of its managers.
But as a condition of the settlement, Dorsey was required to resign from her $79,000-a-year position. She is barred by the settlement from ever working for the school district again.
Dorsey: Being required to resign was “not my idea”
It was a bittersweet coda for Dorsey, she said. She has called the resolution of the case, which resulted in policy changes at the school district, a “victory for all women, pregnant women in particular.”
But the 47-year-old mother of 5-year-old twins says she will now have to find new work.
While she agreed to sign the settlement, she said that being required to resign was “not my idea,” and that she had always envisioned spending her entire career working in the county’s public schools. (Read the settlement here.)
“I just have to take it one day at a time,” she said. “My wish was to retire from the school district, same as my mother.”
For Edgecomb, the principal who demoted her, the story has turned out differently.
After the sex discrimination allegations, he was moved to a principal position at an elementary school.
Then, three years after Dorsey’s complaint was filed, he was promoted to a higher-paying position as principal of Palm Beach Central High School, where he works today earning $93,000 a year.
The school district never investigated Edgecomb’s actions
District officials say there is no record of Edgecomb ever being disciplined or reprimanded. Indeed, records released by the school district this week indicate that officials didn’t formally address the allegations until being contacted by investigators from the EEOC.
At that point, district administrators told federal officials that Dorsey was demoted not because she got pregnant but because she was “lacking in professionalism.”
“Mr. Edgecomb observed that (Dorsey) was in the middle of gossip and she had conflict with several employees,” the district told EEOC officials in a letter in 2012. “Because of her interactions with personnel, Mr. Edgecomb felt that he could not trust (Dorsey) and that she was lacking in professionalism.”
Without a formal investigation, it’s not clear how administrators reached that conclusion. In its lawsuit, the Justice Department pointed out that in 2010 Edgecomb had rated Dorsey “above expectation,” on her annual job evaluation.
Edgecomb did not respond to requests for comment. JulieAnn Rico, the school board’s general counsel, did not respond to messages seeking comment on the case.
In an interview, Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa said that the incident happened years before he took office, and that he was not sure how the case could be addressed now.
“I’m struggling with my own legal counsel about what options really are available to me,” he said.
In court documents, the school board has taken the stance that no sexual discrimination took place, and Avossa this week echoed that view in part.
“We don’t believe that there was an intent on the principal’s part to discriminate against the individual,” he said.
Sid Garcia, a veteran West Palm Beach employment attorney, said there are financial incentives for businesses and government agencies to ignore reports of employee wrongdoing once they have become the subject of lawsuits or complaints to outside agencies.
Disciplining the employee, he said, can be used as evidence against the agency in court.
“They’re thinking ‘If we do discipline this individual, there could be adverse consequences in the case,’” he said, speaking generally about employee misconduct incidents.
Thomas Elfers, a former school district attorney who represented Dorsey in the early stages of her case, said that after so many years of bureaucratic twists and turns, it was regrettable that the case played out the way it did.
“It’s unfortunate that after all that she did and all that happened to her – she got transferred all over the place – to have it turn out like this,” he said.
“I don’t understand that and I guess I just ought to leave it at that,” he said. “You wonder about the message they’re sending.”