Judge finds Windsor principal was fired in June, advancing her lawsuit

  • Tiffany Riley

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2021 8:19:07 PM
Modified: 3/16/2021 9:02:50 AM

RUTLAND — A federal judge on Monday ruled that the Mount Ascutney School District Board terminated Windsor School Principal Tiffany Riley in June 2020, boosting her underlying lawsuit that she was unjustly fired for Facebook posts she made that were seen as critical of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The school district has argued that Riley had been put on leave in June, and continued to receive pay and benefits as part of her $113,000 salary until the School Board held a termination hearing, which is required under state law, and then officially fired her in October.

But U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford wrote in his 17-page ruling that the “undisputed facts establish” that the School Board “terminated” Riley’s employment as principal on June 12, noting that the School Board had issued a written statement to the school community that day that read, in part, “we are resolved that she will no longer lead our school.”

The School Board took the action after several community members had raised concerns after Riley had commented on Facebook, “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.”

Riley has sued the School Board and Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent David Baker over her firing, alleging that she was defamed, and that her free speech and due process rights were violated.

Bill Meub, Riley’s attorney, said Monday evening the ruling backs up a central contention she had made, and that the lawsuit can now focus on “were things done wrong and how was she harmed because of this?”

“I think all of the statements, the public statement that was put out by the School Board, showed that she was terminated (in June). That was the message they wanted to communicate to people,” Meub said.

He said Riley, who lives in Vermont, hasn’t been able to find a new job because of her firing and that she had expressed relief about the judge’s ruling. 

School Board Chairwoman Elizabeth Burrows said she was in Zoom meetings Monday evening and referred a reporter to the school district’s attorney, Pietro Lynn.

“We expect to continue to zealously defend the District and other Defendants. We strongly disagree with the Court’s ruling and will seek an appeal when it is available,” Lynn said via email Tuesday morning.

“We continue to be confident that we will prevail in this matter. It is our position that the Board acted appropriately in providing Ms. Riley her due process rights and in terminating her employment after a full and fair evidentiary hearing.”

While Crawford issued a partial summary judgment for Riley on the date of her firing as it related to her claims of due process violations, First Amendment retaliation and breach of contract, he declined to rule at this time that her two Facebook posts alone were the cause of her firing, or that she had been defamed.

Riley had worked in Vermont schools for about two decades, including five years as principal in Windsor. A Woodstock High School graduate, she attended the University of Florida and later earned a master’s degree in education leadership from Castleton University.

News staff writer John P. Gregg can be reached at 603-727-3217 or jgregg@vnews.com.


This story was updated Tuesday morning with a response from the School District’s attorney.

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