By Monica Pryts/Staff Writer
SLIPPERY ROCK —
A former guidance counselor for Slippery Rock High School is suing the district and principal for age discrimination and claims the principal created a hostile work environment.
Betty Creasy, 54, filed the federal lawsuit July 10 in U.S. District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh. An amended complaint to add more information was filed Tuesday, and a jury trial is being demanded.
The lawsuit alleges Principal Kristie Shulsky harassed Creasy and mistreated her to the point where Creasy was forced to resign and that school officials essentially condoned Shulsky's behavior.
Also, according to the lawsuit:
Creasy worked for the district for 11 years, first as a professional employee then as a guidance counselor starting in 2007. She received satisfactory or commendable ratings on her job performance evaluations.
Shulsky became principal in 2009 and "created an environment that was hostile to the senior faculty." About seven older teachers decided to retire after the 2009-10 school year.
Creasy noted the large number of retirements and Shulsky said she was happy to see the older employees retire, adding she "hoped she could get rid of a few more because she preferred to train young employees."
Creasy's age came up in the conversation and she told Shulsky she was over 50; Shulsky said she was surprised to learn her age.
Shulsky in spring 2010 began planning large-scale changes to the student class schedule that greatly conflicted with the schedule previously in place.
Creasy agreed to work two extra weeks that summer to help finalize the new "controversial" schedule, which drew numerous complaints from parents. Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Nogay took the concerns to Creasy because Shulsky was on vacation.
Shulsky wasn't diligent in completing necessary paperwork, so Creasy was never paid for her extra work.
Shulsky withheld teaching assignments until the end of summer break and didn't share the master schedule with teachers or parents until two weeks before school started.
The new schedule conflicted with classes students had previously decided to take; Creasy had over 110 messages on her voicemail from concerned parents in one day alone.
Nogay shared parents' concerns with Shulsky, who later complained to Creasy she got "her ass handed to her on a plate" by Nogay.
Parents also complained in person and Shulsky sent a "harsh" letter to guidance counselors saying they were responsible for those complaints and would be reprimanded if they failed to comply.
The counselors felt the ultimatum was inappropriate and Creasy immediately contacted her union representatives. She also worried the new schedule would negatively impact the students and her relationships with parents and school staff.
Shulsky eventually discussed the letter with a new, younger counselor and apologized, but didn't do the same for Creasy, who agreed to work Labor Day weekend to help resolve remaining scheduling issues.
Shulsky became increasingly frustrated and hostile toward Creasy and made impossible demands, like repeatedly emailing her lists of tasks to be completed in a few hours. Shulsky didn't make the same demands of other counselors.
She soon told others Creasy's clerical errors led to the scheduling problems and instructed the staff to send all changes to Creasy to be input by another counselor to avoid more mistakes.
Shulsky sought to undercut Creasy's credibility and ordered all communications between the two be in writing. Creasy forwarded on offensive email from Shulsky to her union representative and later learned Shulsky had been monitoring her email account.
"She became incensed that Creasy was seeking union protection and immediately emailed Creasy, implicitly warning her against involving her union," the lawsuit said.
Union President Nancy Moser, Nogay, Shulsky and Creasy agreed to meet Sept. 17, 2010, a standard practice between the union and district.
Shulsky directed Creasy to meet with her the day before and they were joined by union representative Joan Timko and Brendan Smith, assistant principal. Shulsky was hostile and intimidating toward Creasy, questioning her character and professional performance.
"Shulsky also defiantly stated that she was able to do whatever she wanted in the workplace," the lawsuit said.
She physically intimidated Creasy by leaning across the table toward her while shouting and also gave her a "letter of reprimand" listing multiple deficiencies with her work.
Creasy felt Shulsky was seeking to eventually have her fired because two letters are grounds for initiating an employee's discharge. The union filed a grievance.
Creasy was so disturbed by the hostile nature of the letter she called off sick the next day. She rarely took sick days during her 11 years with the district except for a surgery.
Shulsky's daily demands, insults and threats of a reprimand affected Creasy's mental well-being and a doctor put her on extended sick leave. She continues to seek counseling to handle the emotional distress.
Shulsky continued to mistreat her while she was on sick leave by having Creasy's district email password changed. Creasy couldn't assist her substitute and communicate with co-workers and it interfered with her union position as coordinator of the sick-leave bank.
A meeting was held Oct. 18, 2010, to discuss the union grievance and Creasy's representatives asked that either Creasy or Shulsky be moved to a different school building.
The request wasn't granted and Nogay told Creasy to continue to report her mistreatment and that the district would consider sensitivity training for Shulsky, which never happened.
Creasy didn't want to return to the hostile work environment and was forced to resign because of Shulsky's actions. She was replaced by a younger woman.
Creasy is seeking at least $50,000 in back pay, legal fees and related damages.
The district and Shulsky have asked that part of the lawsuit be dismissed in regards to Creasy's claims her First Amendment rights were violated because Shulsky retaliated against her after she spoke out about her mismanagement.
Creasy hasn't identified any speech made outside of her official duties; the First Amendment doesn't protect speech made pursuant to the employee's official duties, according to the dismissal request.
Creasy petitioned the superintendent for help with Shulsky's behavior, an activity that must be a matter of public concern to be protected by the First Amendment. Getting the union involved made it a personal matter.
Shulsky and district officials are named in another lawsuit filed earlier this month in U.S. District Court by Shane A. and Sandy D. Maxwell of Portersville.
They claim their daughter Tiffani, 16, took her own life Jan. 15, 2011, after becoming distraught over a strip search conducted the day before by Shulsky and Timko, also a school nurse.
Two unidentified students claimed they saw Tiffani with illegal drugs on the bus the morning of Jan. 14, but Mrs. Maxwell said she drove Tiffani to school that day. No drugs were found during the strip search, which the Maxwells said was illegal and included verbal abuse from Shulsky, who suspended her for 10 days.
Published Oct. 27, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.