Michael Gurrieri, a former investigator for San Diego Unified School District, says district officials fired him after he found evidence that the principal at Green Elementary School in San Carlos was allegedly drinking on the job and had failed to act on reports of sexual harassment and assaults between elementary students.
On September 25, Gurrieri sued San Diego Unified as well as superintendent Cindy Marten and other staff for firing him for blowing the whistle on sexual assaults and other misconduct at district schools.
This happened in a boys’ bathroom
In May 2013, parents of a kindergarten student at Green Elementary School reported an assault on their son during school hours. The alleged incident took place in the boys’ bathroom. During that incident a student pulled another student’s pants down and then put the boy's penis inside his mouth.
A year later, May of 2014, the parents filed a complaint against the school's principal, Bruce Ferguson, for failing to act on the complaint and for not following district protocol when handling cases of sexual assault by students. The parents claimed that by burying the complaint, Ferguson created an "unsafe school environment" for their son and his fellow students.
That same month, on May 19, district officials asked newly hired investigator Gurrieri, a former police detective from Charleston, South Carolina, to look into the matter. He did.
The investigator investigated too much?
During his five-month-long investigation, Gurrieri discovered that Ferguson had known about other alleged assaults on school grounds and had failed to take any precautionary measures. Gurrieri also discovered that Ferguson was often absent from his job and allegedly abused alcohol while on the job.
Gurrieri submitted a "long and detailed report" that included examples of Ferguson's negligence as well as multiple reports of sexual assault at Green Elementary to Carmina Duran, executive director for San Diego Unified's Quality Assurance Office.
The report then made its way up the food chain, to Andra Donovan, the district's general counsel, and later to superintendent Marten.
According to Gurrieri's complaint, Donovan, Duran, and eventually Marten asked Gurrieri to remove any mention of previous incidents of sexual harassment and assault at Green Elementary as well as delete any allegations that Ferguson had failed to act on them.
Reads the complaint, "Gurrieri repeatedly objected to Duran and Donovan’s improper instructions to delete parts of his report, stating he believed such allegations were pertinent to the investigation of [the student's sexual assault] complaint that Ferguson failed to properly respond to the sexual assault, that they demonstrated a pattern of Ferguson’s negligence and failure to properly respond to allegations of sexual assault and other serious incidents involving students in the school, and demonstrated Ferguson was not acting in the best interest of the safety of his students."
The investigator attempted to convince district officials that Ferguson should be removed from the school, but, according to his complaint, his attempts were ignored. Duran and Donovan deleted portions of the report in order to protect Ferguson's job. The district then provided the edited version to the parents of the kindergarten student who was assaulted in the school bathroom.
In June of this year, the district agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the student's parents against the district for $105,000.
One month prior to the settlement, a mother of a first-grade girl filed a lawsuit after her daughter, a special-needs student, was fondled and molested by three students inside a bathroom at Green Elementary School. The alleged assault took place in May 2014, the same time that Gurrieri was conducting his investigation.
Gurrieri's investigations thwarted
Gurrieri continued to investigate reports of misconduct at district schools and Duran and Donovan continued to edit his reports.
During his investigations, Gurrieri discovered that a high-school athletics coach used tobacco products on campus and yelled and physically abused his players. According to the complaint, Gurrieri found that Duran and Donovan gave "preferential treatment" to certain staff members while refusing to investigate the claims made by non-white students.
Despite his findings, Gurrieri was met with criticism. Duran and Donovan claimed he was not meeting the standards of an internal investigator. In November 2014, Gurrieri was terminated from his position without being given a six-month evaluation or without having been written up.
Gurrieri is asking that a jury award him punitive damages as well as pay all attorneys fees.
Where's Principal Ferguson now?
Reportedly, Ferguson took a leave of absence before the end of the 2014-15 school year. He was later transferred from his job.
According to the lawsuit, “Upon information and belief, Ferguson took a second leave of absence from the district after the claim was filed....
“Upon information and belief, Ferguson is still employed by the district in a different position.”