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Class Action

Legal maneuvers continue in the latest TUSD scandal.

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Disgraced TUSD Human Resource Director Paul Felix is demanding that he be given a job as assistant principal of Hohokam Middle School as part of a secret agreement three members of TUSD's board signed off on in April.

Superintendent Stan Paz sent Felix home on June 5 as the agreement unraveled under glare of media and public scrutiny of Felix's role in the sexual harassment and sex discrimination of his former secretary, Carolyn Sebastian.

In a letter to Paz last week, Felix said he wanted to proceed with the transfer to Hohokam even though he had told Paz on April 16 that he would rescind his request.

Paz declined and informed Felix that he would not ask TUSD's Governing Board to approve the move at its June 27 meeting, the final chance before Felix's contract on his $79,915-a-year job in human resources expires three days later.

But Paz and the board majority he worked with to develop the secret agreement with Felix and Sebastian may have already fatally botched their attempt to can Felix, who began his TUSD career in 1976 teaching at Cholla High School. The board has never publicly voted to revoke the transfer to Hohokam.

The transfer, which violated TUSD and equal opportunity guidelines because the job was closed to all but Felix and was done without input from parents and Hohokam administration, was approved by the board on April 9 on a 4-1 vote.

Judy Burns dissented. Felix then pre-empted the move by Rosalie Lopez for reconsideration and reversal by sending a memo to Paz to explain that "in the interest of promoting peace I am willing to rescind my request for a transfer to Hohokam and remain at my present position as director of human resources."

Shielded from the public as well as two board members was an April 5 agreement Felix's lawyer Don Awerkamp negotiated with TUSD lawyer John Richardson of the Tucson firm DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy. It shows that Paz, TUSD's chief legal counsel Jane Butler, Board President Mary Belle McCorkle, and Clerk Joel T. Ireland and Board Member Carolyn Kemmeries acknowledged the transfer and Felix's new rate of pay $57,572. McCorkle, Ireland, and Kemmeries also agreed to keep the entire matter secret.

The agreement confirmed what long has been suspected at TUSD: that the district has a system of multiple records. The agreement to which McCorkle, Ireland and Kemmeries acquiesced allowed for a copy to be kept by Richardson and not in Felix's TUSD personnel file.

A separate secret agreement--also known to the McCorkle-Ireland-Kemmeries majority--allowed Sebastian to be paid $11.60 an hour with full benefits for nearly the entire past school year while staying away from the Doolen Middle School clerk job that Felix assigned her after he removed her from his office.

Felix and Sebastian agreed to the deals in exchange for dropping anticipated lawsuits. But those remain likely. Sebastian is represented by Steve Weiss, who won a $25,000 settlement for former TUSD human resource director and principal Ed Arriaga after Arriaga was targeted with multiple complaints of sexual harassment by women who also collected cash settlements from TUSD taxpayers.

"This is unfortunate business as usual and that's something that really concerns me," said Mike Gordy, an energetic teacher of U.S. History at Alice Vail Middle School and past president of the Tucson Education Association. "All of the innocent and guilty end up getting money because of the way TUSD handles it."

Key figures in both the Arriaga and Felix cases were in change of the "department that is supposed to help prevent this type of behavior from other employees," said Gordy, once a close friend of Felix.

Felix has denied repeated requests for interviews. He has told superiors that his relationship with Sebastian was consensual or was initiated by her. But that may not matter in light of the landmark sexual harassment case, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, decided 16 years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case established that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It also clarified that sexual harassment created a hostile work environment and further that "voluntary" behavior was no defense against a sexual harassment suit.

TUSD was forced to unseal the Felix and Sebastian agreements after requests, under the Arizona Public Records law, were filed by The Weekly, the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Citizen and KGUN-TV.

A unit of the Arizona Attorney General's office is now investigating whether the agreements and secret approval by McCorkle, Ireland and Kemmeries violated the state Open Meeting Law. A quorum, three members of TUSD's five-member board, cannot take final action on items outside of a posted meeting. Besides the April 9 vote on Felix's transfer to Hohokam, no other issue or settlement in the Felix-Sebastian matter was placed on a board agenda for action.

Butler and Richardson are attempting to head off the investigation with TUSD's contorted spin that Paz acted within his administrative authority and simply apprised Governing Board leadership. Richardson placed calls to the Attorney General's office even though the TUSD board has yet to hire him specifically to defend the district on the Open Meeting Law question.

Butler is the subject of a separate investigation that also touches on the Open Meeting Law and personnel rules. In a meeting with a TUSD African-American committee at TUSD headquarters, Butler repeatedly said the Jim Bloodsworth, a Sahuaro High School math teacher, would not be rehired for the 2002-03 school year. She made the remarks despite the fact that the board previously voted to reject a recommendation by Sahuaro Principal Steve Wilson to cut Bloodsworth.

Butler controlled all aspects. She and her staff advised Wilson, arranged for a lawyer to represent a student whom Bloodsworth had removed from class for threats and violent behavior, and then conducted the investigation into the dispute.

Richardson, TUSD's lead outside legal adviser, first chose Willcox lawyer Max Jarrett to conduct the probe. But even Kemmeries, who rarely objects to Paz or the lawyers, raised questions because Jarrett's bosses include Dale Shumway, father of TUSD lawyer Rex Shumway.

"How can you possibly expect an unbiased, objective report when his son reports to the employee being investigated?" Kemmeries wrote to Paz last month. "This is truly the joke about asking the fox to guard the hen house."

Paz, with no public vote from the board, now has settled upon C. Benson Hufford, a lawyer in Arizona since 1971. He is a partner with a well-connected Flagstaff firm and has worked both sides of employment disputes and represented school districts and municipalities. In the small town that is Flagstaff, with a smaller circle of lawyers, he has crossed paths with Butler, a former member of the Coconino County Attorney's office as well as a former Coconino County manager.

Bloodsworth's lawyer, Ivan Abrams has prepared a claim, a requisite precursor to a lawsuit, against TUSD.

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