Award-winning Broward educator files suit with EEOC against Lee County School District to defend her civil rights and protect her health
By K. Chandler
(Last of a III Part Series)
Dr. Hicks promoted to executive director of South Zone Schools
Despite the volatile work environment Dr. Hicks found her-self in, she continued to persevere, and on July 1, 2012 was promoted by the school board from director to executive director, South Zone Schools.
Scarcely seven weeks later on Aug. 23, 2012, the unofficial statements collected earlier from ‘eye-witnesses’ of the Aug. 10, 2011 incident were submitted to the FDOE Professional Practices office by Craig Baker on Director Monroe’s letterhead. His actions were later summarily condemned by Superintendent Burke as well as Dr. Hicks’ attorney.
Five days later, Dr. Hicks received a letter from FDOE Professional Practices Office pertaining to an alleged Aug. 10, 2011 incident involving drinking alcohol on the job – the same incident for which she never received notice by the district or was afforded due process by the district.
Dr. Hicks, Superintendent Joseph Burke and Att. Bob Coleman of the Fort Meyers based law firm of Coleman & Coleman responded to the FDOE with correspondences, medical documentation, statements and staff and community reference letters in an effort to provide an accurate context for Dr. Hicks’ medical condition and the incident that occurred on Aug. 10, 2011.
Board member accused of attributing false statements to Sheriff Scott
Compounding the situation, after FDOE conducted their preliminary investigation, School Board Member Jeanne Dozier allegedly contacted FLDOE investigator Randy Kosec and made false statements stipulating that Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott advised Ms. Jeanne Dozier that Dr. Hicks appeared to be impaired and he received several calls regarding Dr. Hicks’ behavior from the community.
According to Sheriff Scott, these statements were so patently false, he felt compelled to correct the record by sending a terse letter to school board member Jeanne Dozier on April 23, 2013 categorically denying the inflammatory statements she had earlier attributed to him.
“While I recall our paths crossing at numerous political events…I don’t recall this conversation with you… I am aware of the media coverage regarding Dr. Hicks; however, my exposure to her has been limited and all favorable…I have never uttered the statements assigned to me,” stated Sheriff Scott.
As this was occurring, Superintendent Burke also found himself under siege primarily from outgoing board member, Jane Kuckel who is alleged to have accused him, among other things, of according preferential treatment to Dr. Hicks by issuing her a $5,000 supplemental district contract without board approval for serving as the DA Transformation Officer, a position that required her to put in “countless hours” on weekends and evenings. “The DA work alone was a full time job,” Dr. Hicks reflected.
Rebutting Kuckel’s preferential treatment allegations, Superintendent Burke provided her with a list of over 200 supplements, including supplements for Greg Adkins and Rob Dodig. He compared Adkins $14,000 supplement to Hicks’ $5,000 supplement for serving as the DA Transformation Officer. In essence, Dr. Burke saved the district a six figure salary for two years. This same work is now being completed by the new transformation director who is earning over $100,000 annually.
On Feb. 15, 2013, Dr. Hicks received a letter from FLDOE PPS Office informing her that “no further action will be taken at this time,” Although the case was closed, Dr. Hicks stated that the stress and damage to her professional reputation and health was permanent.
She also noted that her biggest disappointment was the attacks from Monroe, a sorority sister she said she never thought would turn on her in the manner she did especially given the deplorable lack of Black professionals represented in the Lee County school system.
“Ranice Monroe informed me when I first arrived that there were only three Black district level administrators and seven Black principals – and this is in a district that has approximately 100 schools and 82,000 students.”
IG warned to ‘cease and desist’ by Dr. Hicks’ counsel
Despite the FLDOE PPS Office dropping the case against Dr. Hicks, Lee County School Board Chair, Mary Fischer received a letter that same month from the FLDOE Inspector General (IG’s) office calling for an investigation of Dr. Burke, and demanding a response from the board within 30 Days or they would conduct their own investigation. One of the primary areas of concern stemmed from Dr. Burke stoppage of a so-called active investigation of Dr. Hicks that harkened back to the Aug. 10th 2011 incident.
A subsequent letter was sent to Fischer on April 23rd by Att. Robert J. Coleman, representing Dr. Hicks. In the letter, Att. Coleman stated that the Inspector General’s jurisdiction extends to “waste, fraud, or financial mismanagement within the school district…I believe that it is the board’s responsibility to insist that the Inspector General remain within the defined boundaries of its investigation.”
Dr. Hicks’ car vandalized in district parking lot
Adding insult to injury, in April of 2013, Dr. Hicks’ Lexus was vandalized in the school district parking lot. The district would not pay for repairs and Dr. Hicks was forced to come out of her own pocket to cover the $250 insurance deductible. Since Dr. Hicks became more afraid for her safety, her attorney requested that the district change the locks on her office door and provide an escort to her car.
According to Dr. Hicks, earlier that same month she had been referred to a cardiologist, due to abnormality in a heart stress test she’d undergone, and this incident further exacerbated the situation.
Dealing with his wife’s health, along with his own health issues, Dr. Burke wrote a letter to the board stating that he would be retiring in the near future. Dr. Burke was also concerned for their safety, stating that it was apparent that Dr. Hicks was targeted to force him to leave. He also stated that he was disgusted at the racial attacks on Dr. Hicks and Dr. Rodriguez.
A month later, Don Armstrong, Vice-Chair of the Lee County School District sent a letter to Fischer, the School District Chair, apprising her of the fact that he had met with investigators of the FDOE Inspector General’s Office on Thursday, April 25, 2013.
“During the interview a medical document, protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rule was shown to me by the lead investigator, Michelle Southall,” stated Armstrong. “I would like a written explanation from Mr. Michael Blackburn, FDOE Inspector General as to why this document was shared with me,” he said, adding that he “felt compromised by this action” and would be seeking outside legal counsel.
Blackburn’s office stated that Kuckel’s complaint triggered their investigation of Dr. Burke. To Dr. Hicks this appears to be another attack of discrimination to ensure Dr. Burke left Lee County.
Dr. Burke announced his retirement date as June 19, 2013. On May 28th, 2013, the Lee County School Board voted to appoint Dr. Nancy Graham as superintendent effective June 20, 2013. Graham’s appointment was contingent upon non-reappointing all district level directors and higher-ups (approximately 35 administrators including Dr. Hicks), and allowed the newly-appointed superintendent to make the decision for rehiring staff,” Dr. Hicks pointed out.
On June 19, 2013, The School District of Lee County officially swore Nancy Graham in as Superintendent of Lee County.
On June 20, 2013, Superintendent Nancy Graham called a meeting with Dr. Hicks at 12:30 pm during which time Graham informed her that she would not be reappointed and she was requested to leave the building posthaste, despite the fact it was pouring rain outside.
“This was retaliation for me filing an EEOC Compliant. I had asthma attacks for the next several days,” recalled Dr. Hicks. Dr. Rodriguez received the same treatment. I was told that I would be reappointed and assigned to another location.”
Case taken up by EEOC after complaint filed by Dr. Hicks
The EEOC Complaint Dr. Hicks is referring to, was filed in May 1, 2013. In it the Lee County School District was charged with racial discrimination against Dr. Hicks for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The respondent (Lee County School District) agreed to mediation. Monroe was demoted and no longer able to open up employee disciplinary cases; Baker retired, Dodig continues as the staff attorney and Adkins was promoted to Assistant Superintendent.
Since then, district documents show that Lee County has mediated two of Dr. Hicks’ EEOC Complaints, resulting in a $27,500 settlement and a decree to cease the bullying and harassment. The district also agreed upon inquiry, to only reference Dr. Hicks’ two outstanding evaluations she received for her work in Lee County.
In December 2013, Dr. Hicks was diagnosed with heart failure. She received a pacemaker and defibrillator after having more blackouts. She exercises and focuses on her relationship with God to heal her heart and spirit. And she prays that no one else will ever be the sacrificial lamb and experience the harassment, discrimination and bullying that she experienced.