Tracey Hiss sues Perkins Schools

Former teacher, track coach alleges district discriminated, denied her due process
Alissa Widman Neese
May 30, 2014

 

widman@sanduskyregister.com

Tracey Hiss has taken her recent firing to federal court.

The former Perkins Schools employee alleges her May 14 termination stems from gender discrimination, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. Northern District Court in Toledo.

Hiss is demanding $2.5 million in damages, back pay, legal fees and an annulment of her termination.

This past year, Perkins school board members suspended Hiss for allegedly distributing prescription-strength pain relief patches to a handful of high school students in May 2013.

She pleaded no contest in December to possession of a dangerous drug, and "vehemently denies" the claims, the lawsuit states.

Hiss, a 25-year girls track coach and a 19-year health teacher, contends district officials handled her investigation differently than a similar incident involving a male coach.

In 2012, Travis Crabtree, a wrestling coach, allegedly offered a student a prescription painkiller and retained his job with Perkins Schools. He received only a three-match suspension after athletic director Michael Strohl conducted an internal investigation. 

Meanwhile, Perkins Schools officials turned over Hiss' case to Perkins police.

Included in Hiss' lawsuit is a recent letter from superintendent Jim Gunner, detailing 13 drug-related violations Hiss allegedly committed from 2011 to 2013. He does not provide evidence to support the allegations, "only hearsay," the lawsuit states.

District officials did not record any of the incidents in Hiss' personnel file and did not address the concerns until this year.

"What we see here is a pattern of due process failures going back to 2011," the lawsuit states. "(Perkins Schools) has committed a 'pattern' of unprofessional conduct against Coach Hiss to 'pile on' fallacies to justify the difference in prosecution between Coach Hiss and Travis Crabtree."

Defendants listed in the suit are Gunner, Strohl and Briar Middle School principal Steven Finn, as well as the district's five current school board members.

Gunner, the district's spokesman, did not return a phone message Thursday night seeking comment.

Hiss' lawsuit is now the third pending case against Perkins Schools. 

Former teacher Carol Smith, 72, filed a suit in 2011 alleging officials discriminated against her age and medical conditions after board members fired her for allegedly falling asleep during classes.

Linda and Patrick Waters, parents of two former Perkins Schools students, then filed a suit in 2012, claiming school officials did nothing to stop two years of racially charged bullying their young sons endured.

Read the entire lawsuit in the PDF file below.

Comments

Perkins Resident

This will be interesting.

Stop It

mikey?

mikeylikesit

if she wins, with that kind of money, she can afford somebody younger than me..

Stop It

lol...

jl0419

I think she may have a case here.

underthebridge

Isn't this the 3rd time that Steve Finn has been named in a lawsuit?

sash

Doesn't mean much. Anytime you are in a position of authority or management, you're going to get tagged, in any lawsuits, in any industry.

underthebridge

I'd agree if this were a large corporation. It isn't. I'd also agree if the litigation involved different matters. They don't. Furthermore, what other similarly sized school district in the area has 3 discrimination lawsuits against them? There are none.

sash

If the suits were alike, you'd have a pattern, but they're not. One of the suits is a teacher who kept falling asleep in class and is claiming discrimination because of her age and medical condition and the other is basically a bullying suit. You can slap the label of discrimination on just about anything, but it doesn't make them alike.

Babo

All the suits involve denial of due process and equal protection of the law. There's your pattern.

goodtime1212

Imagine that, Mr. Gunner and the BOE miss managed something other then money, glad we voted no. still no trust.

Perkins Resident

When's the next levy vote?

DickTracey

Don't forget the male Perkins bus driver, that got busted on domestic violence, yet he got to keep his job!

And that same Perkins bus driver assaults a man while highly intoxicated, and Perkins hires him back!

It sure looks like Perkins Schools let men get away with a lot.

Peachy Keen

Yes, but I remember back in the 1990's when the female principal at Meadowlawn School had an extramarital affair with the male gym teacher, even allowing him to sleep at the school overnight if he didn't want to go home. It was so obvious what was going on that even the kids knew something was going on between the 2 of them. SHE kept her job despite her behavior and, if I recall right, he was only transferred to another building. I always felt that if she had been a MALE principal, she would have been fired!

DickTracey

I remember that! My kid saw them kissing!! He came running in from school and said, "we saw Mrs. **** kissing Mr. **** in the gym!!!"

Try explaining that to a ten year old!!!

LookingDown

OK, not saying I'm for dv, but what does that have to do with driving a bus?

candleburner

She was making $2.5 mil? No wonder Perkins School district has a problem passing their levies!

Common Sense

As for Perkins Schools handling her investigation differently than that of a male coach, it is because there may be more to both stories. Until we know all the information concerning both cases, we should not be judging Ms. Hiss, Perkins Public Schools, or its staff.

Goble101

What is different is that Crabtree and Strohl are buddies. They're both coaches on the same VFW team, etc.

Common Sense

Although your statement about coaching is correct, there's more to this story that will never come out to the public.

Unassumer

What amazes me is that each case seems to be handled differently and not equitably. I hope she wins.

sash

It was my understanding that Crabtree had given the med to a student and then had second thoughts about the appropriatenes and informed Strohl about what had occured. Both involve prescriptions, but I think there is a big difference between a single mistake voluntarily acknowledged and a string of "mistakes" where the teacher denies responsibility and even accuses students of stealing. I would have handled the situations differently and that has nothing to do with the gender of the offenders.

Babo

Except that an orally taken controlled substance is a far more serious violation of law and endangers the athlete far more than externally applied lidocaine patches that can be purchased in lower strengths over the counter.

sandtown born a...

Agreed

Wald

Except that Hiss didn't give her girls lower-strength lidocaine that can be purchased over the counter. She gave them higher-dose patches obtained through a prescription.

Babo

And you know these facts to be true as a result of a hearing where the students making the allegations testified and were challenged?

Also, these patches are topically applied and can be removed anytime by the athlete as opposed to a controlled substance that is swallowed and can irreparably harm someone.

Finally who was supplying the prescription strength patches in 2011-2012 at the time of most of the incidents.

LookingDown

Would be nice but she won't talk! I'd be mad as crap if it was my kid she gave anything to

eriemom

There is another case pending. The pattern show bias.

underthebridge

There is another lawsuit pending?

eriemom

Yes. Found it.
2014 CV 0361

WeThePeople1965

Where's Thomas Paine?

Thomas Paine

Working. Short comment. I have none. I don't have facts, data or any information about this case or the others to comment intelligently.

Babo

One glaring difference between the treatment of the coaches is the fact that the male wrestling coach admitted giving "vicodan" or hydrocodone like substance (a controlled prescription drug) to a student athlete while Hiss denied giving Lidocaine patches (a non controlled prescription drug) to an athlete.

Handing out something like hydrocodone (an orally taken controlled substance regulated by the DEA) is a lot more serious than handing out a lidocaine patch which is used topically and can be bought in lower strength over the counter.

I bet when they really start digging into this sexist culture a male administrator at the Middle School who had a track record of sexist behavior in prior employment will be shown to be the impetus behind the firing of Coach Hiss.

Stop It

Sounds to me like some people need to smoke a big fat one and calm the hell down. :)

MrGadfly

Mr. Crabtree, made a mistake. Brought his mistake to his superiors. Accepted the punishment for the infraction.

Ms. Hiss, made a mistake. Lied about her involvement. Blamed a student. Continued to lie about her mistake.

Who has integrity ? Who took responsibility for their action? Who do you trust ? Who would you want to teach your children?

Babo

How do you know she lied? The entire point of the lawsuit is that she did not receive due process and a hearing to address hearsay complaints.

eriemom

I don't think that contract or EEOC law will care about taking responsibility. Only documented facts. How were these, and other, cases treated differently. The easiest way to show discrimination is to show similar situations that have different outcomes.

eriemom

This comment should not reflect negatively on either Mr. Crabtree or Miss Hiss.

Mr. Crabtree was confronted by Mr. Stoll after a parent called him. The police were not called. His punishment was missed athletic events. I'm sure that Miss Hiss would have responded differently had she been treated with the same response to the infraction.

samantha

I see this differently. The BOE is in a no win situation. If they do nothing the public accuses them of being part of the 'good ole boy network' and sweeps everything under the rug. If they deal with things head one, the possibility exists that lawsuits may happen. We live in a very litigious country with a strong union presence after all.

Let's see, they warn a sleeping teacher six times and then they fire her. I'm ok with that.

They have a coach give out prescription item, admit it, and be punished. They send out an email to all the coaches and say don't do this. Then another coach gives out prescription patches. When confronted she lies about it. They investigate and terminate. I’m ok with that.

The bullying case deals with kids. I will let the courts rule on that. There are two sides to every story. SR what is the update on that?

But regarding the teachers, yes they are high paid. With that comes a high expectation. They also fired a female teacher for inappropriate relations with a student. I for one applaud the BOE for holding staff accountable and not ignoring situations. It's a tough road to travel but what we expect from our elected officials.

eriemom

The "good ole boy" network is sort of the cause of this action. The network worked for the boy and the girl was treated differently.

The update on the sleeping teacher is that the appeals court reversed. She asked for accommodations due to a disability that caused drowsiness and was refused.

Wald

Hiss was the one encouraging students to walk out of classrooms and join teachers on the picket lines when the Perkins teachers were on strike. Seems as though she has a history of thumbing her nose at the administration.

underthebridge

If that is true, it is distasteful, but certainly not grounds for termination.

MrGadfly

What a great teaching moment.

Both made a mistake. One took responsibility. One did not and then blamed a student and continued to lie.

Should we teach our children to take responsibility for their mistakes or lie, blame others and then sue ?

What do we teach our children? They are watching.

stayfit

Tracey is a good person, a solid coach and a great member of the community. What happened to her is wrong. I am sorry that it came to this, but after reading the 14-page trial paper, I feel like the school board and school leaders turned their back on one of their own. They discriminated against Tracey in multiple ways and there needs to be consequence for the action.

underthebridge

I have to wonder if this is related to the longstanding practice in many schools and school sports program of having medications available, but not "giving" them to the students - opening a drawer and then leaving the room. If the student is caught, the student says "she gave me the Midol, etc." When confronted, the staff member claims, "I didn't give him that. He took it." I don't agree with it, but I know it happens.

soccermom10

How about this edit cowboy (even though if I remember right she did plea no contest): Part of the discrepancy as well is Coach Crabtree "allegedly" gave the medication (and he still shouldn't have) with one parents of the child's permission - and only a one time incident, involving one athlete. Then, the other parent did not agree & contacted him and Mr. Strohl. Coach Hiss "allegedly" did this countless times with a number of athletes, and did nothing else than look the other way, and deny it when allegations were made, even going as far as to say that the athletes stole them from her. There is a big difference in the punishments that they should receive, and the way the cases should be handled.

Cowboy

I would chose my words more carefully if I were you. You, soccermom, can also be sued for your slanderous accusation against Hiss without proof. You might want to use words like alleged to protect yourself.

I usually charge $250hr for that advice.

underthebridge

She pled "no contest" to being in possession of the lidocaine patches without a prescription. The lawsuit indicates it was her father's. The lawsuit also indicates her performance evaluations were satisfactory and she was unaware of the "countless" other allegations until this incident. According to the lawsuit the other allegations were not supported with evidence and amounted to hearsay. That is what her lawsuit is saying is a failure of due process. It makes you wonder how she could simultaneously have "countless" other allegations at the same time she received satisfactory evaluations. In the very least, this is poor management and supervision.

Babo

Also, a No Contest plea is NOT an admission of guilt and therefore cannot be used in any other proceeding as an admission that the acts occurred. A no contest plea is used for strategic purposes.

Cowboy

I'm not taking sides here but there appears to be a bigger issue that needs to be addressed. If indeed this is true.....
(Included in Hiss' lawsuit is a recent letter from superintendent Jim Gunner, detailing 13 drug-related violations Hiss allegedly committed from 2011 to 2013. He does not provide evidence to support the allegations, "only hearsay," the lawsuit states.

District officials did not record any of the incidents in Hiss' personnel file and did not address the concerns until this year.)
....then Gunner needs to be removed from his position for not following proper disciplinary procedures.

Babo

Excellent point.

soccermom10

...or Gunner was unaware of any of this happening until it all came to light last spring.

Stop It

He seems to be unaware of a lot of things in his school district.

Cowboy

If indeed Gunner was notified of these alleged infractions in the spring of last year it would still be unprofessional and irresponsible of him to bring them to light without proof and proper documentation. The term hearsay would be appropriate to play at this point, wiping her plate clean of these witch hunt shenanigans.

Blowfish

Hiss case will be interesting. Yes, she was treated differently. Was she treated differently because she was a female? The burden of proof is on her. Does Perkins have a history of systematically treating women unfairly? Do they get paid less, suspended more, harassed, etc?

Two teachers were caught illegally administering prescription drugs. Just be caused Perkins failed to act properly the first incident does that mean they can never in the future?

The Smith case is a whole other story. The students welfare always comes first. Falling a sleep in class not only robs pupils of education, it can endanger them. She has some nerve to sue.

Cowboy

Your comment... "Two teachers were caught illegally administering prescription drugs. Just be caused Perkins failed to act properly the first incident does that mean they can never in the future?" ....seems to be 50% correct at best. Hiss was never caught administering prescription drugs.

Blowfish

Lets split hairs then. One lied about it and the other didn't. Getting fired from teaching is an administrative decision not civil or criminal. Did you violate school policy yes or no. Like I said before, will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Cowboy

Just as I am not qualified to say Hiss is not lying, unless you have recordings or video proof, you are also not qualified to say she is. Scared kids will say anything to keep from getting in trouble, that is fact!

fredinperkins

Just curious as to how much Perkins Schools pays annually to the law firms they retain? I can only assume they received sound counsel for their UNANIMOUS decision to fire Ms. Hiss.

Blowfish

Legal coverage sometimes in the form of insurance is just the cost of doing business in any school district. Just like public utilities and fire alarms. It is criminal not to be protected.

Common Sense

If the pain medications were the property of her father, what were they doing on the school campus? This prescription could have remained in her vehicle during school hours where access would have been denied. As I have said before, there is more to this than will ever be published. In any confrontation, there are two sides and the blame must be shared.

Dcfred20036

Okay, she pleaded no contest. While technically not an admission of guilt for commission of the crime, the judge will treat a plea of "no contest" as such an admission and proceed to find the defendant guilty as charged. Erie County Common Pleas Court Judge Tygh Tone ordered Hiss to serve one year in a diversion program. I'm surprised the suit has not been thrown out!

underthebridge

Read the complaint. She pled no contest to being in possession of a controlled substance without a prescription. Criminal charges regarding giving or not giving the students the patches were not brought. It is a mute point.

Babo

This was a misdemeanor No Contest Plea and the State was required to produce factual support for the charge before Judge Tone could find her guilty. I don't believe the Court followed the law of Ohio on that requirement but proceeded to find her guilty anyway.

In any event, her lawsuit is claiming discrimination based on gender and denial of due process of law and her No Contest plea and the subsequent guilty finding whether legal or not is not admissible in any subsequent legal proceeding. In other words there is no legal proof that she committed the act and Perkins Schools must prove it as part of their defense.

I find it hypocritical that you would quickly (and without fundamental legal knowledge) deny a female teacher her constitutional rights to challenge her termination from a public school system in view of your support of a male teacher terminated pursuant to contract from a private school system.

Ralph J.

How much did Perkins spend on lawyer fees the past 10 years?

fredinperkins

As blowfish stated, "...it is the cost of doing business...", with which I agree to a certain extent. However, when one's "business" is funded by taxpayer dollars, personnel/administrative decisions should be made by scrutinizing the facts.

I don't know the cost over 10 years but they can utilize the county prosecutor's office at no charge I believe.

tech-man

OK, I've read both side of the argument. No matter what everyone thinks, there are only 2 outcomes by the board and Gunner to make this fair.

1. Tracy Hiss gets her job back.

2. Both Tracy Hiss and Travis Crabtree get terminated

Its pretty simple people

ridiculousness

There are more differences between what Crabtree did and what Hiss did than can be numbered. The most upsetting fact is how she treated the girls when the did absolutely nothing wrong. And YES I do know that facts because my daughter was one of them. These kids did not know they were prescription which wasn't even Hiss's it was her fathers (all public record by the way) The school trainer questioned some of the girls on where they got them only after he noticed the RX label. They told him and he called the school doctor and they reported it to Strohl. Hiss was contacted and immediately denied it. Saying the girls broke in her office and stole them. These girls didn't even know anything was happening to try and cover their tracks until Hiss had already been questioned. She then said if we were better parents and took care of our kids they wouldn't have broke in her office and stole them. Everyone knows she carried them around in her bag and often told the girls to get one. Bet she didn't tell anyone how she cornered some of those girls and said she was going to ruin them and they would never run track for perkins again, or that she called some of them to try and sweet talk them into saying she never gave the patches to them. Conversations which were recorded but not allowed in court. And by the way parents of the kids involved never wanted to press charges of any kind we just wanted her to tell the truth and stop lying about the girls. Maybe if she wins her 2.5 million all those parents involved should go after her for slander against our daughters. Say what you want but she should be ashamed of herself and how dare she try and get money for the sake of pride. She is a disgrace to all coaches, teachers, and women.

How about we mention the time the cheerleaders sneaked out of their hotel room at nationals to go to a rave and Hiss knew and helped cover it up, Or how she dated a student, the list is long and yes Perkins should have taken action sooner. At this point she should be grateful she kept her job for as long as she did.