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Friday, Aug 22, 2014
Education

Hillsborough school board sued over termination


Published:

TAMPA - A former school maintenance employee is suing the Hillsborough County school board for wrongful termination, saying that his decision to hand out ballot petitions for a potential school board candidate did not rise to the level of campaigning on school property.

George L. Olmo, a Tampa resident fired by the school district in April 2012, said in a complaint filed with U.S. District Court in Tampa that the school district also trumped up a charge he commandeered a district-owned vehicle for personal use.

Olmo's complaint alleges the school board violated his right to free speech, retaliated against him over his right to free speech, violated his right to equal protection and due process, wrongfully terminated his employment and breached his contract.

A spokesman said the school district would not comment on pending litigation. District policy states that staff "may not campaign on school property during working hours on behalf of any political issue or candidate for local, state or national office."

According to the complaint, Olmo was politically active and campaigned for a variety of politicians, including current school board members Doretha Edgecomb, April Griffin, Susan Valdes and Stacy White. Olmo told investigators that on Jan. 25, 2012, three employees at Leto High School approached him, asked him if Valdes was running again, and asked whether he could get them signature petitions that would help get Valdes on the ballot.

He returned the next day and handed out the petitions, the complaint stated.

Olmo said he also encountered a Leto cafeteria supervisor and gave her a petition, and later interacted with a custodial supervisor, who received three petitions and handed out two to employees.

None of the supervisors reported Olmo's activity, according to the complaint. Olmo did not encourage any of the workers to vote for any candidate, did not wear campaign paraphernalia endorsing a candidate, and did not collect signed petitions, the complaint states.

Board member Valdes has been a critic of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

"They just wanted me out. It was a personal vendetta," Olmo said Wednesday. "It's more personal than anything else."

On Jan. 26, according to the complaint, Olmo was a passenger in a van that stopped for 50 seconds in the 6000 block of Clark Street between Leto High and a complex known as Maintenance West. The complaint says Olmo explained that someone "waved him to stop while traveling." Investigators used GPS tracking equipment on the vehicle to trace the route and length of the stop.

"The whole thing is just a little irritating," said Adam Levine, a Clearwater lawyer representing Olmo. "It's simple, what they did. What blows my mind, when you look at the story, they did some things that are really not right."

jstockfisch@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7834

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