Sarasota School Official Resigns Over Sexual Harassment Charges - WUSF Public Media | Tampa NPR, Local News Coverage

Sarasota School Official Resigns Over Sexual Harassment Charges

Sarasota County School COO Jeff Maultsby, seen in a 2017 video when he was with the county 's Office of Business and Development, resigned Tuesday after being accused of sexual harassment COURTESY SARASOTA COUNTY GOVERNMENT

Sarasota County School Board Superintendent Todd Bowden was set to fire his Chief Operations Officer, Jeff Maultsby, after a sexual harassment investigation found that Maultsby created a hostile working environment.

Instead, Maultsby saved him the trouble by resigning on Monday. His departure was confirmed by school district spokesperson Kelsey Whealy Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday, Bowden announced the intention of holding a special meeting next Tuesday where he would formally notify the Board of his decision to terminate Maultsby.

Maultsby, who had been suspended with pay, decided not to appeal appeal his firing, instead stepping down.

Cheraina Bonner, Maultsby’s administrative assistant, reported that he made inappropriate comments both in person and through personal text messages.

A report from Sproat Workplace Investigations concluded that Maultsby acted in a harassing manner and that Bowden failed to act in a prompt manner on the issue.

In a statement released Monday, Bowden said, “After reviewing the entirety of the text messages exchanged between Mr. Maultsby and Ms. Bonner, and the transcripts and exhibits from each interview conducted by Ms. (Vicki) Sproat (of Sproat Workplace Investigations), it is clear Mr. Maultsby behaved inappropriately, and his actions are unbefitting of a school district employee.”

Bowden went on to say, “Regarding allegations made against me and (Human Resource employee) Mr. (Al) Harayda, it is not appropriate for me to comment on the contents of the report prior to the special meeting of the Board on November 5. I will share in advance; however, that I disagree with the report findings and several conclusions made by Ms. Sproat. I look forward to delivering a full response to School Board members next week.”

The release ends with Bowden apologizing: “I regret that Ms. Bonner has to wait even longer for resolution to the complaints, and I appreciate her patience and fortitude throughout this process, and I hope our employees can continue to do what we do best – educate and inspire our children.”

The Sproat investigation showed several incidents of sexual misconduct by Maultsby.

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In the report, Bonner presented text message exchanges between her and Maultsby, such as a conversation that happened on Dec 9, 2018 at 7:37 p.m.:

Maultsby started the conversation with “hey” and then several kissing emojis.

When Bonner did not reply, Maultsby changed the subject to a football game.

At 7:54 p.m., Bonner sent “you have a good evening.”

Maultsby continued with a series of text messages including: “I love you Raina!!!”, “You know I love you Ms. Raina.” “I’m just kidding. This will not carry over to tomorrow.”, “Right?!”

At 7:58 p.m., Bonner responded with emojis, followed by “I’m over it for now.”

At 8:08 p.m., Maultsby sent “Ms. Raina I’m saying I love you, I’m over it,” “Let it go!!!”

Bonner replied, “I see how you operate…Okay it’s over. But I know your kind.”

Maultsby testified that this conversation was simply him “razzing” Bonner about how the football team he cheers for beat hers. He stated that using “love” in this manner was not meant to cross boundaries, but rather as “banter that he said is common in the African American culture.”

Another questionable exchange of text messages happened on April 12, 2019 at 9:24 a.m., according to the report:

Maultsby: “You miss me already?”

Bonner: “No…Lol… It’s work related do you know where the signed waivers are for the position that need to be posted?”

Maultsby: “Yes you do!!!!”

Bonner: “I do what?”

Maultsby: “Miss me?”

Bonner: “Waivers?”

Maultsby: “Admit it!!”

—–

According to Sara Blackwell, the attorney representing Bonner, there were about 800 text messages sent to Bonner from Maultsby during her employment.

One particular exchange that is noted in the report is a video sent on Christmas where Maultsby sang to Bonner in the dark.

Also in the report, Bonner reported that sometimes Maultsby used inappropriate language in office settings when discussing female employees.

In one instance, Bonner claims that Maultsby talked about one of the female directors of the Facilities, Planning and Construction Department whom he frequently clashed with, saying: “Look at her, I would never f*** her, she got to go.”

Bonner also said Maultsby made a sexual comment about another female director to her: “Ms. Raina, she don’t know who she is messing with. I’m a beast in the bed, I will have her a** climbing the wall.”

Maultsby denied both of these claims.

The investigation also found that Bonner feared the possibility of a hostile work environment. Bonner testified that during a conversation about reporting office misconduct, Maultsby said: “You know what they say in the street, ‘snitches get stitches.’” Bonner then walked out.

On Mar 18, 2019 at 11:43 am, a few days after that conversation, Maultsby sent a misspelled text to Bonner, saying “Stitches get Stitches” with a link to a newspaper tweet about a South African political assassination. Bonner replied with “Lmao”, “Wow” and “Lol”, saying she did not know how to reply.

Bonner testified that she perceived this as a threat and that she felt if she reported Maultsby, she would be demoted, fired or physically hurt.

Maultsby claimed it was in context to what they joked about earlier that week, and that Bonner never indicated any sign of being offended by the interaction.

According to the report, Bowden told Maultsby about issues that Bonner brought to him, including the “snitches” comment. She later expressed concern that she had to continue working with Maultsby in close vicinity after he found out about her complaints.

At a May 8, 2019 meeting, Bonner told Bowden she did not want to provide any more details, feeling that the friendly relationship between him and Maultsby would hinder any external investigation, the report said. Bowden, however, saw the meeting differently, claiming he only learned of the threatening environment that day and he had no information about it.

The Sproat investigation came to the following conclusions:

  • Maultsby sexually harassed Bonner and created a hostile work environment
  • Maultsby threatened to retaliate against Bonner for reporting her concerns
  • Bowden’s actions played a primary role in the District’s failure to act adequately on Bonner’s claim
  • Harayda’s action played a secondary role in the District’s failure to act adequately on Bonner’s claim.

Blackwell said the report provides much needed perspective.

“I think the most important thing that came out of the report, other than the fact that Maultsby was sexually harassing my client, was that Bowden…gave a deposition where he swore under oath to tell the truth and what he said under oath wasn’t the truth,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell said there is no room for misinterpretation: “It’s not ‘he said she said it’…this was in writing, very clear, 800 messages.”

A special School Board meeting is still on the schedule for 12 p.m. on Nov. 5, as well as a regular scheduled meeting at 6:30 p.m. Both meetings will be held at The Landings, and are open to the public.

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