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Settlement reached in case between Cuyahoga Falls School District, former administrator

by STeve wiandt | REPORTER Published: October 2, 2016 12:00 AM
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A settlement was reached in September between the Cuyahoga Falls City School District and a former administrator who claimed she was negatively evaluated by the superintendent because she had cancer and then, to get back at her for reporting the district to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, non-renewed by the School Board.

Anne Alfano, one-time principal of Cuyahoga Falls High School and the former Coordinator of Teaching and Learning for the district, had demanded a jury trial and was seeking in excess of, according to the complaint, $25,000 for back pay, front pay and equitable relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

The school district agreed to pay $335,000 to Alfano, according to the settlement agreement.

The district agreed to pay Alfano, according to the settlement agreement, in the gross amount of $66,829.83 in full satisfaction of Alfano’s claims for wages; and $133,659.65 in full satisfaction of her other claims including “any claims for liquidated damages, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and emotional distress, exemplary/punitive damages, general damages, and special damages.”

The settlement agreement also calls for the district to pay Bolek Besser Glesius LLC, Alfano’s attorneys, $134,510.52 for costs and attorneys’ fees. Each party agrees to be responsible for their own taxes and their respective court costs, the settlement said.

The settlement which was negotiated out of court was unanimously approved by the Board of Education on Sept. 15. The parties will pay their respective court costs, according to the settlement agreement. Another aspect of the agreement is that Alfano waived her rights to be reinstated as an employee of the Cuyahoga Falls City School District and she is not allowed to seek employment with the district for a period of five years, according to the agreement.

“The parties have reached an agreement to their mutual satisfaction, and that’s really all I can say,” Dr. Todd Nichols, superintendent of the Cuyahoga Falls City Schools, said on Sept. 26.

On Oct. 9, a message posted on the Cuyahoga Falls City Schools Facebook page stated, “… the settlement did NOT cost tax payers $335K. It was an insurance settlement with a $5K deductible. Thus, the cost to the district was $5K plus district attorneys (not insurance attorneys who were primarily working the case). “In the end, the settlement saved the district time and legal costs. We are happy to have this chapter behind us as we continue to look to the future of our school district.” The Facebook message was posted in response to a story on the settlement in another publication Oct. 9.

R. Renee Vining, lead counsel for Alfano, said, "We have no comment at this time."

The settlement agreement was unanimously approved by the Board of Education on Sept. 15.

Upon a motion from both parties, Judge John Adams on Sept. 22 dismissed the case "with prejudice. The parties will each pay their own costs and attorneys' fees," according to a court document. When a case is dismissed with prejudice, the plaintiff is barred from filing a lawsuit on the same issue at a later date.

Alfano in November 2015 filed a complaint against the Board of Education, Nichols and then-Deputy Superintendent Mark Gleichauf in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.

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Alfano was the Cuyahoga Falls High School principal for five years before accepting an administrative position with the school district's Central Administrative Office on Aug. 1, 2013. The position of Coordinator of Teaching and Learning was, according to Alfano's complaint, created for her by the district based on her "past success with increasing overall performance metrics."

On Aug. 9, 2013, Alfano was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. The next day, she stated in her complaint, she informed the director of human resources at the time, as well as Nichols and Gleichauf, of her diagnosis and that she would be taking medical leave to undergo surgery and treatment.

Alfano claims the defendants failed to engage in a meaningful interactive process to determine what accommodations would be made for her, and the defendants failed to provide her with the required notices that her cancer-related absences would be protected by the FMLA, allegations which were denied by the defendants in the answer they filed with the court March 17, 2016.

She endured a number of medical tests, surgeries, treatments and side effects during her first and only year as coordinator, the complaint says. Throughout her cancer treatment, Alfano continued to work when she was able, and she provided timely notice and documentation when she could not work.

In their answer, the defendants stated Alfano "continued to work intermittently throughout her cancer treatment [and] that she provided some medical documentation" to the school district.

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According to the complaint, she never exceeded the amount of sick time or medical leave allowed under her contract or state law.

During her cancer treatment, Alfano requested a reasonable accommodation, including a reduced schedule and/or modified work hours, the complaint states. The school district initially granted her request to work from home, then withdrew permission, and then later granted it again, it says. In their answer, the defendants acknowledged granting Alfano's request to work from home.

She claims that after that, Nichols and Gleichauf scheduled mandatory meetings on her "work from home" days, "thereby effectively denying the accommodation." She further claims they "harassed, belittled, reprimanded and sabotaged" her because of her cancer-related disability and her use of medical leave.

During her entire year as coordinator, Alfano claims, no one at Cuyahoga Falls City Schools provided her with a job description or any performance goals.

All of those allegations were denied by the defendants in their answer filed with the court.

In December 2013, Nichols completed a "negative" evaluation of Alfano's performance, according to her complaint, "based solely upon her disability and her exercise of FMLA qualified medical leave."

This allegation was denied by the defendants in the answer filed with the court.

Alfano claims Nichols did not present the evaluation to Alfano as required by CFCS policy and the Ohio Revised Code. According to her complaint, he placed the evaluation on her desk under a stack of papers.

When she found the evaluation and asked him about it, "he admitted that he negatively evaluated her because she was sick and/or on medical leave so often during her first five months that there was 'nothing to evaluate,'" according to the complaint. "He also told her that there was no way to know if she would have performed well had he provided her with a job description and performance goals as required by law."

The allegations regarding delivery of the evaluation and the ensuing discussion were also denied by the defendants.

On Jan. 21, 2014, Alfano filed a complaint of disability discrimination with then-Human Resources Director Melvin Brown. Around late January 2014, she also filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging disability discrimination.

Nichols in May 2014 issued another negative performance evaluation based on her disability and use of medical leave, the complaint states, "stressing that her absences 'have created a difficult work situation with the Department of College and Career Readiness.'"

This allegation was denied by the defendants.

Alfano claims Nichols recommended to the Board of Education that her contract not be renewed based on the two negative evaluations. She also claims Nichols issued the second negative evaluation and recommended the non-renewal of her contract because she reported the school district's illegal disability discrimination to HR and the EEOC. The defendants acknowledged that Nichols recommended the non-renewal of Alfano's contract, but denied the rest of this allegation.

On May 20, 2014, the Board of Education approved the superintendent's recommendation that Alfano's contract not be renewed.

Alfano filed nine claims for relief, including disability discrimination, aiding and abetting discrimination, violation of Family and Medical Leave Act, retaliation and breach of contract. In its filed answer, the defendants denied that Alfano was entitled to any of the relief she sought.

Email: swiandt@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9420

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