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Former Windsor School principal asks judge to say she was fired in June

  • Tiffany Riley

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/27/2020 9:44:53 PM
Modified: 10/27/2020 9:44:50 PM

RUTLAND — An attorney for Tiffany Riley, the former Windsor School principal who was fired after making a Facebook post critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, is asking a judge to declare that she was effectively terminated back in June when the School Board removed her from her post.

The motion, filed by attorney Bill Meub in U.S. District Court in Rutland on Friday, is the latest step in a lawsuit Meub and Riley filed against the Mount Ascutney School District Board in June, saying the board had fired her without proper justification when they put her on paid administrative leave on June 12.

The board voted to terminate Riley July 27, pending a termination hearing, and the lawsuit was put on hold awaiting the outcome of the hearing. The hearing was held in September and the board issued a written decision Oct. 14 to officially fire her as principal. Riley has 30 days to appeal that decision in Vermont Superior Court.

In the motion last week, Meub asked the federal court to rule that Riley was “terminated or constructively discharged” by the district when she was placed on leave June 12, rather than at a later point.

If the judge rules in Riley’s favor then the board’s July 27 vote and its Oct. 14 written decision become “unnecessary actions,” and there’s no need for Riley and Meub to file an appeal of the board’s decision, he wrote in the motion.

Pietro Lynn, an attorney for the school district, said in an interview Tuesday that Riley was not fired in June. In fact, he said, she was still employed through the summer, receiving full benefits and her $113,000 salary up until the Oct. 14 decision.

“I don’t understand any argument that she was terminated (in June),” Lynn said.

In an interview Tuesday, Meub stood by his assertion that the board had fired Riley in June. He said that the board asserted at the time Riley “would never lead the school again,” and that Baker made statements to the press, including the Valley News, that were “the equivalent of her being terminated.”

He said that the board had mishandled Riley’s case in June and then tried to “correct” it by holding the termination hearing.

The legal battle stems from a post that Riley, a principal at the school since 2015, made on her personal Facebook page on June 10. In the post, Riley said “I firmly believe Black Lives Matter, but I DO NOT agree with coercive measures taken to get this point across; some of which are falsified in an attempt to prove a point.”

She also wrote that “While I want to get behind BLM, I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race.”

Mount Ascutney School District Superintendent David Baker asked Riley to take down the post, but she initially declined, later writing another post in which she said she had “unintentionally offended” people, according to the board’s written decision.

Shortly after Riley was put on leave, Meub filed his lawsuit in which he and Riley accused the board of unfairly firing her and violating her First Amendment rights, and also accused Baker of defamation.

Lynn responded in late July with a motion to dismiss five of Meub’s six claims, saying that they were moot because Riley hadn’t been fired yet.

A hearing in the federal lawsuit is scheduled for Nov. 3.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.




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