March 27, 2014

Jury awards $2.4 million to ex-Fort Worth assistant principal

Joseph Palazzolo, a former assistant principal at Arlington Heights High School, filed a wrongful-termination suit under the Texas Whistleblower Act. He has another suit pending against school Superintendent Walter Dansby.

A Wise County jury has awarded a former Fort Worth school employee $2.4 million in damages in a wrongful-termination suit, his attorney said Thursday.

Joseph Palazzolo, a former assistant principal at Arlington Heights High School, said he was fired because he reported falsification of student attendance records, inappropriate sexual relations and discrimination against minority students.

“Mr. Palazzolo is happy that the jury saw the truth, that all of the truth came out, and that [the jury] felt the school district was wrong in its termination,” said Victoria Neave, an attorney for Palazzolo.

Palazzolo’s wrongful-termination suit was filed under the Texas Whistleblower Act, which a prohibits a governmental body from taking an adverse employment action against an employee who “in good faith reports a violation of law.”

The school district is expected to consider filing an appeal, said Thomas Brandt, lead counsel for the school district.

“I was certainly disappointed with the jury verdict,” Brandt said Thursday. “We have maintained throughout that we don’t think he was retaliated against.”

District officials have said Palazzolo was fired because he didn’t live up to the expectations for school administrators. In past court proceedings, district attorneys argued that Palazzolo created a hostile work environment and bullied others, was disrespectful to students, parents and co-workers, violated school district policies and discriminated against minority students.

Board President Christene Moss said trustees would soon discuss the matter.

“We haven’t yet talked with [Brandt] to see what we’re going to do as a follow-up,” Moss said Thursday.

Disputes between Palazzolo and the district have been on-going for years. Palazzolo twice has been fired, his attorney said. That is also how many times he has sued the school district, Brandt said.

In January 2014, the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth held that Palazzolo’s lawsuit concerning his job evaluation and other issues should be dismissed, school officials said.

“He did already sue us and lost,” Brandt said. “This is the second time suing us.”

The jury trial in Wise County’s 271st state district court began March 18.

Also this month, Palazzolo’s attorney filed a suit against school Superintendent Walter Dansby. He asserts that Dansby defamed his character and violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by ordering the taping of a closed-session meeting in which Palazzolo was discussed. The tape later was made public.

Palazzolo is seeking $1 million in damages in the defamation suit.

Dansby was served in that suit at the school board meeting on Tuesday, Neave said.

Dansby has declined to comment on the defamation suit. He did not respond to requests for comment Thursday about the Wise County judgment.

Neave said she expected the district to appeal the case.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they want to fight because this is bad for their image,” Neave said. “A jury of 12 people who didn’t know anything about this case [prior to serving as jurors] determined that FWISD was wrong in its actions.”

Brandt said the district all along has done the right thing.

“There were plenty of witnesses who testified about their own personal experiences about Mr. Palazzolo and they told quite a different story than what Mr. Palazzolo was telling,” Brandt said.

Palazzolo is unemployed and has applied for many school jobs but has not been hired, Neave said. The defamation has hurt his ability to find work, she said

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