Suspended Manatee schools investigator sues school board, district, board member Dave 'Watchdog' Miner

BRADENTON -- The same day he was suspended from the Manatee County School District, an investigator filed a discrimination lawsuit against the school district, the Manatee County School Board and a school board member.

Troy Pumphrey, suspended Monday by Superintendent Rick Mills, is seeking more than $100,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit filed Monday, including back pay for a promotion he didn't receive and other damages. The nine-count lawsuit demands a trial by jury.

The suit specifically names board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner, who has been calling since October for the district to investigate Pumphrey and for Mills to demand his resignation. Miner held a press conference last fall and said Pumphrey made false claims on his resume, including holding licenses he never had.

"Anyone can file a civil suit, but it's something I don't think it is justified," Miner said Tuesday.

Mills placed Pumphrey, the district Office of Professional Standards investigator, on paid administrative leave Monday. Mills said Pumphrey was suspended based on information the district received last week.

On Tuesday, in response to a public records request, Linda Lambert, district custodian of records, said no such documentation existed.

"Please keep in mind that in compliance with Chapter 119, F.S. any documentation pertaining to Mr. Troy Pumphrey is now exempt due to an open investigation," she noted in an email.

Steve Valley, district spokesman, said the district will not comment on Pumphrey or the investigation.

Pumphrey's suit claims the defendants or agents of the defendants -- in order to get him fired -- sent an anonymous package to Mills containing information that was sealed and expunged from public record concerning a 1997 business deal "gone sour."

In 1997, Pumphrey was working as a detective in the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., according to his resume.

"Yet, as a result of this anonymous package delivered to Defendants," Pumphrey said he "is now being asked to immediately resign or be terminated instead of having a formal investigation and the opportunity to clear his name, as is required by due process rights," the lawsuit states.

According to Pumphrey, he was asked to resign or be terminated Friday. The lawsuit says Pumphrey met with Mills, and then with staff attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum and Deputy Superintendent of Operations Don Hall where he was pressured to quit.

Mills said Monday there will be a formal investigation by an independent investigator into all aspects of Pumphrey's May 2013 employment application and a subsequent August 2014 application for a promotion.

Mills announced Tuesday at the school board meeting Sniffen and Spellman, a law firm out of Tallahassee the district has worked with before, will conduct an independent investigation.

"They have an impeccable reputation," Mills said.

Pumphrey put the district on notice about his intention to sue when he sent a demand letter in November saying he would settle if his demands were met, including a money award and making a public declaration against Miner's statements.

"Such settlement discussions did not occur, but the violations of the Plaintiff's many civil and due process rights continued to occur," the lawsuit states.

Pumphrey's demand letter in November did not let Miner off the hook for a lawsuit individually.

The demand prompted a discussion among board members as to how to adequately provide legal support for board members when they are sued in their official capacity. The discussion was expected to continue at Tuesday night's meeting.

Last month, an in-house investigation found Pumphrey did not intentionally mislead the district when he included licenses on his resume that he did not hold.

Teitelbaum has said he believed Pumphrey acted in good faith when he listed a Class "C" and a Class "MA" license -- which deal with being a licensed private investigator in the state of Florida -- on his resume when he applied for and was hired to work for the Manatee County School District.

Teitelbaum's 49-page investigative report to district officials was completed in response to a request from Mills in September. Teitelbaum said in his report that Pumphrey should have indicated on his resume the licenses were pending final approval.

"This appears solely to be a lack of wording contained within his resume and not a lack of integrity," Teitelbaum wrote.

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.