A third-grade public school teacher has filed a retaliation complaint against the Rochelle Park, New Jersey, township school board and school superintendent alleging the defendants lashed out against him for speaking out against wrongdoing.
Teacher Thomas Hornes filed his complaint in New Jersey Superior Court Sept. 14, claiming he was suspended from his job without pay for voicing concerns about Superintendent Geoffrey Zoeller’s conduct on the job.
According to NorthJersey.com, the whistleblower retaliation complaint alleges that Mr. Hornes spoke out against Mr. Zoeller at a public meeting in May 2015 regarding refunds owed to parents over a class trip.
“Hornes spoke out several other times, most notably during an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint against Zoeller by a teacher in March, and after the firing of a teacher for violating (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers [PARCC]) procedures in May,” NorthJersey.com reported. “An investigator’s report into the harassment complaint, according to the suit, found that Zoeller engaged in misconduct, and Hornes’ comments were used to support that decision.”
NorthJersey.com also notes that Mr. Hornes’ whistleblower retaliation lawsuit comes after the local teachers’ union voted overwhelmingly to declare “no confidence” in Mr. Zoeller’s leadership due to some of the same allegations and his fostering of a hostile work environment for school faculty.
On July 24, Mr. Zoeller asked Mr. Hornes to resign. When Mr. Hornes refused, Mr. Zoeller issued an “evaluative memorandum” accusing him of tampering with PARCC security agreements and suspended him from his job, causing him to lose his $78,000 annual pay, $5,000 incremental pay raise, tenure, and paternity leave.
Whistleblowers often face harsh retaliation for standing up against suspected wrongdoing, including losing their job. But the effects of retaliation can run much deeper, potentially destroying careers and personal relationships.
“This has really turned Tom’s world upside down,” Mr. Hornes’ lawyer told NorthJersey.com. “I can’t even begin to describe the level of stress and emotional distress that the actions by Dr. Zoeller and the board has caused him.”