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O’Connor cleared of wrong-doing against women teachers

Jared Whitley Of the Record staff
Bob O Connor, Treasure Mountain principal. Grayson West/Park Record
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"Vindicated" is a popular word for Treasure Mountain International School Principal Bob O’Connor these days.

O’Connor has been cleared of wrong-doing in a two-year-old law suit filed by five female teachers, accusing O’Connor of harassment and discrimination, and transferring them to another school against their will.

"In no way was I harassing them," O’Connor said. "But you think about how this weakens someone’s case who may be harassed at some point. I think this weakens women’s rights."

Last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission cleared him of the accusations.

"I’m just glad it’s over," O’Connor said. "The climate here at the school is great. The faculty here have moved on, we still have great parental support and test scores are up." The five, who taught at Treasure Mountain in the 2002-03 school year, are Judy Holt-Ottley, Judy McClelland, Tessie Palczynski, Peggy Quinlan-Gee, and Michelle Breinholt. All are still employees of Park City School District, but Breinholt is the only one still at Treasure Mountain.

"It’s a bureaucracy, what can you say?" Breinholt said. She has no plans to pursue the matter any further.

About Breinholt, O’Connor said, "I think we have a pretty good working relationship."

He praised Breinholt’s efforts as an honors biology teacher and involved teacher with the International Baccalaureate program.

Holt-Ottley has is on a year’s leave of absence working in a school for at-risk youth in Jamaica, Breinholt said. Last year, Holt-Ottley was a counselor at the Park City Learning Center.

McClelland and Quinlan-Gee teach at Ecker Hill International Middle School and Palczynski teaches at the Park City Learning Center. Palczynski said, "They did clear him of discrimination charges but they said they can’t do anything about poor management skills and conflict in management styles, that’s something that’s going to have to be addressed by the district." She said she misses her colleagues at Treasure Mountain, but is glad to be at the learning center. "We have all moved on and always embraced our new jobs because it’s about the kids. So we’re all doing fine. We’re not in our place of passion, which is 7, 8, and 9 grade but we’re all doing just fine," Palczynski said. "Although they may have separated us as colleagues, we have grown closer as colleagues and as friends because our main focus is and always has been the kids."

The law suit

In the suit, the teacher’s attorneys wrote: "The fact is, these five women have been targeted, intentionally and with bad faith, to be harassed, singled out for repeated abusive and punitive discipline, had their professional credentials and integrity held up to ridicule, and been threatened with termination and/or removal entirely without cause."

To resolve the situation, the suit asked for letters of apology, reversal of the involuntary transfers, and re-assignment of O’Connor. Teacher transfers are handled at the district level, and O’Connor had no authority over that. "It is my hope that for these five remarkable women, the anguish and pain can soon give way to fairness and healing. I await your reply so that process can begin," wrote attorney Jan Graham in the suit’s cover letter.

In 2003, Park City School District hired two independent investigators who interviewed about 80 employees from Treasure Mountain and Park City High School, where O’Connor had previously worked as vice principal for five years.

"It was a nerve-wracking time for me," O’Connor said. "I was extremely pleased at the support and response that the other half of the school and community gave me."

At the same time, the state labor commission also conducted a study. Neither one charged O’Connor with any malfeasance, so the teachers each appealed the matter with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The last of the five appeals came back rejected on Friday.

"As far as I’m concerned, it’s settled with the final one last Friday," O’Connor said. He noted, "That closed the book on it." Graham, Utah’s former attorney general, was a partner at the Park City law firm Tesch Graham. She left the law firm about a year ago, and the firm now has nothing to do with the case.

"I was looking forward to meeting the lady," O’Connor said. "I guess I don’t get to."

"Tapped a keg" Besides the suit, O’Connor objected to the tactics used against him.

"I was surprised and disappointed at the perception that was put into the community about how I was treating teachers," O’Connor said. "I was disappointed at the attempt of attorneys to try the case in the media."

O’Connor cited articles in The Park Record, interviews on KPCW, and public comment at School Board meetings as an attempt to create "enough humiliation to get him or the district to roll over."

The parties charging him even "tapped a keg and had a buffet at Deer Valley to, in my mind, garner support," O’Connor said.

He says the entire experience hasn’t changed the way he conducts himself as a principal.

"The school community here has been supportive, so I’m appreciative about that," O’Connor said. "I don’t think it has changed the way I conduct things. I have gotten faith in the process that the district and state used to involve everybody. That process worked."


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