EEOC investigating Clovis Unified for discrimination

The Fresno BeeJuly 26, 2013 

JRW CLOVIS UNIFIED

Clovis Unified School District headquarters, Sunnyside and Herndon Avenues, Clovis

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The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is investigating Clovis Unified School District for allegedly discriminating against a veteran teacher who says she was treated unfairly based on her age.

According to a charge filed Thursday, kindergarten teacher Carolyn Glenn, 65, was the target of repeated discriminatory and retaliatory conduct by Jefferson Elementary School Principal Geoffrey Tiftick.

Glenn, who has worked at the elementary school since 1991, said Thursday that Tiftick gave her unwarranted poor reviews, showed preference to younger teachers and repeatedly forced her to switch grade levels.

"We have no other recourse in our district," Glenn said on why she filed with the EEOC. "If we go through the procedures that are supposedly set up for it, we're ignored and it's brushed aside and things go on as they've always gone. I've just decided I've had enough."

EEOC spokesman James Ryan, who couldn't speak to the specifics of Glenn's charge, said the federal agency typically conducts an investigation and tries to settle issues like Glenn's outside of court.

That investigation could include mediation, witness testimony or a visit to the employee's workplace, said local EEOC Director Melissa Barrios. But if an agreement can't be reached, the EEOC could sue the district under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

Glenn has requested transfer to another school at least twice in the last 13 years, but was denied on both occasions. Her charge follows two separate internal complaints about Tiftick:

• Glenn alleged in 2010 that Tiftick unfairly transferred her from first grade to kindergarten six weeks into the school year and asked her if she'd considered retiring, saying, "It was better to go out on top than on the bottom."

In its formal response, the district said Tiftick made that comment, but that he "also shared his knowledge of two retired teachers ... indicating that he felt they waited too long and later experienced difficulties." Tiftick did not respond to messages left by The Bee.

• The complaint says Tiftick retaliated against Glenn when she refused to retire this upcoming school year. It also says the day after Glenn turned in her letter of intent to continue teaching, Tiftick said she would need to move to first or fifth grade.

An internal investigation followed, but after interviewing employees including Glenn and six other teachers, district officials concluded Tiftick didn't reassign her based on age.

The district has since tried to find a resolution, Clovis Unified spokeswoman Kelly Avants said Friday. Clovis Unified Assistant Superintendent Carlo Prandini sent a letter that Glenn's attorney received Thursday night indicating Glenn could stay on as a kindergarten or first-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary or transfer to another site this school year. The district hadn't received the EEOC complaint Thursday and the district's offices were closed Friday.

"We would still like the opportunity to work directly with the individual to resolve this," Avants said. "Certainly we respect the process. The EEOC has to look into things and certainly we will work with them to provide any information they request of Clovis Unified."

But Glenn's lawyer Amanda Hebesha, who is also her daughter, says Prandini's letter is evidence of the district's intent to discredit her mom. She contends the district also whitewashed its April investigation, downplaying the testimony of several teachers who say they witnessed or were the subject of age discrimination.

"It literally minimizes and excludes all evidence that supports my mom's claim," she said. "I myself and my partner Doug Tucker have personal knowledge of what conduct was relayed to (the district)."

One former Jefferson Elementary School employee -- who asked The Bee that her name be withheld -- said she witnessed Tiftick make discriminatory remarks toward Glenn on several occasions.

"He would make comments like, 'Those dinosaurs down in kindergarten like their old ways of doing things,' " the employee said.

She said Tiftick asked other teachers to document when Glenn took her lunch break and when she left for the day. And Tiftick regularly bullied other teachers, she said, so much so that they were afraid to give him a negative review when the district distributed surveys.

Several other former and current teachers contacted by The Bee declined to go on the record about their interactions with Tiftick and expressed concern about their job safety.

"We're speaking up for a lot of teachers," the former Jefferson Elementary employee said. "It was just an ongoing thing and toward the end it was to get (Glenn) to retire, to get her to finally give it up. She's stubborn, I don't think I could have hung in there like she did."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6412, hfurfaro@fresnobee.com or @hannahfurfaro on Twitter.

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