Manatee School District facing lawsuits following Frazier case

jdeleon@bradenton.comMay 14, 2014 

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Defense attorney Eddie Mulock confers with Rod Frazier in court Wednesday. Frazier entered a plea of no contest to three misdemeanor counts of battery and three misdemeanor counts of interfering with school attendance. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald

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MANATEE -- Although the case against former Manatee High assistant football coach Roderick Frazier is now closed, the Manatee County School District still faces multiple lawsuits as a result.

Frazier pleaded no contest April 30 to three misdemeanor counts of battery and three counts of interfering with school attendance. As part of the plea deal worked out between the defense and the State Attorney's Office, prosecutors dropped four other battery charges.

Two Manatee High School staffers have filed suit against the school district -- teacher Patricia Aragon and parent liaison Adinah Torres -- for retaliation they say they received after reporting Frazier's inappropriate behavior.

A third staffer, parent liaison Stephen Gulash, is expected to file suit later this week.

"We are seeking monetary damages to recover for emotional pain and mental anguish and loss of reputation," said Craig Berman, attorney for all three plaintiffs. "Each of these people were bullied, treated like trash."

The school district has no comment, according to spokesman Steve Valley.

Three other school district officials -- former principal and assistant superintendent Robert Gagnon and former assistant principals Matthew Kane and Gregg Faller -- face felony charges they did not report suspicions of child abuse. Their trial begins June 16.

All three are fighting terminations from the district.

Berman said the school district has not yet filed a response in the courts.

The Torres and Aragon lawsuits have been filed under the Title IX Education Amendments of 1972 in the U.S. District Court Middle District of Florida Tampa Division. They demand a jury trial.

"You are talking about children where their well-being was willfully disregarded," Berman said. "And then, when teachers reported it, they were retaliated against."

The suits do not name individual school district administrators. Berman said it's not decided yet whether to sue any individuals. Several district officials tried to silence the complaints against Frazier, he said.

"They were going to protect Frazier at all costs, including their personal freedom," Berman said. "Now they have to build a case with individuals they fired."

Torres filed suit May 1, following the closing of the criminal case against Frazier in which she was described as a victim.

In March 2011, Frazier inappropriately touched the fellow parent liaison while training her. Torres reportedly told her supervisor Faller.

"I can't have any problems between you guys. Just remember if you need help with one of the students, you want someone to come and assist you. You got that? So you got this?" Torres said she was told by Faller.

She responded: "I got it."

Following the conversation with Faller, Torres reportedly told Frazier his behavior was unwelcome and inappropriate.

Her duty post was then changed to the back of the school and her phone calls were not answered when she needed to use the restroom, the suit states.

Retaliation claims

Retaliation included being monitored and constantly reprimanded, the suit claims.

Claims in Aragon's suit date to February 2011 when she reported Frazier contacted a female student in her classroom about feminine hygiene. After seeking the advice of her union rep, Aragon said she reported it to Gagnon, who said he who would take care of it, according to the suit. Gagnon reportedly later told her he had handled it.

Frazier then reportedly began acting disrespectful and angry toward her. "Frazier continued to act in a sexually harassing manner toward female students by texting them, riding with female students on a golf cart and calling them out of class for closed door conferences in Frazier's office," Aragon's lawsuit states.

"Frazier also continued to retaliate against the plaintiff by giving students false information and claiming them out of class for closed door conferences in Frazier's office."

After the school district Office of Professional Standards began an investigation, Aragon gave a statement to investigator Debra Horne.

Aragon said she was then retaliated against by Manatee High School administrators. Retaliation continued after the Bradenton police began an investigation and, by spring 2013, it was unbearable, according to the suit.

"In the Spring of 2013, plaintiff's emotional and physical health severely deteriorated from the retaliation and hostile work environment in which she was placed and she began missing work for health reasons," the lawsuit claims.

Gulash also suffered retaliatory acts after reporting Frazier, Berman said.

"They started monitoring his computers, the cameras and even accused him of stealing chicken that the school cafeteria was going to throw out," Berman said.

Gulash was also accused of using school-owned lawn equipment and stealing personal weight equipment he personally bought, Berman added.

Gulash was also witness to Gagnon and Faller saying Torres would not be getting an English teaching job at the school, Berman said.

Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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