Ex-Jefferson School Board aide files EEOC complaint against former board president _lowres

Cedric Floyd

Over a seven-month period in 2015, a member of the Jefferson Parish School Board barraged the board's secretary with hundreds of phone calls and text messages, many of them after business hours, according to a report prepared by an outside attorney. 

The board member, Cedric Floyd, was at times solicitous, according to the report, telling the secretary that he was "thinking about" her in one call and that his "world was coming to an end" because a few minutes had gone by without a call from her.

At other times, the report says, Floyd was angry and bullying, telling her on one occasion, "I can't beat you up now. I will call you back."

The accusations appear in a report prepared by an attorney hired by the board after the secretary, Sharon Hunter, complained to school system administrators. It was added recently to a federal lawsuit Hunter filed months ago against the board. 

But the board itself has never reviewed the report's findings, despite having paid $26,000 to the attorney who put it together, I. Harold Koretzky.

Koretzky delivered the report to school system officials in October 2015, but the board put off considering it for three months. In February 2016, a proposal to consider it publicly failed, and then a motion to take the board into closed session to discuss it also failed. 

The report was not made public at the time, and a public records request for it by The Advocate was denied on the grounds that it was a personnel issue. It became public after it was filed into the court record. 

Hunter's suit against the School Board details a pattern of interaction that she said caused her to suffer from migraines and neck pain and eventually to resign from her job.

During his investigation, Koretzky interviewed Hunter, Floyd and others.

The report shows that over a seven-month period, Floyd, who was then the board's president, called Hunter more than 1,000 times and sent her more than 400 text messages on both her work and personal cellphones.

He berated her for work he considered sub-par and sometimes asked her personal questions that went beyond the bounds of a proper employer-employee relationship, the report says. 

Phone logs provided by Hunter showed that Floyd called her personal cellphone 530 times between Jan. 18 and Aug. 11, 2015. The majority of those calls — 382 — occurred outside her normal work schedule. He also called her board-issued cellphone, which he told her to keep with her at all times, 544 times during the same period. Of those, 80 were outside her work schedule. 

Hunter recorded some of the calls. In one from July, Floyd told her, "I could have beat(en) you down a little bit ... whatever you're saying, it doesn't meet my expectations," the report says.

Then, a few days later, during an after-hours call, Floyd told her, "I can't beat you up now. I will call you back."

Some of Floyd's calls took a different tone. "Five minutes without a call and my world is about to come to an end," he told her during an afternoon call on July 27. Two days later, he repeated three times during an after-hours call that he was "thinking about her," according to the report.

Floyd also sought to isolate Hunter from other staff members, the report says, even moving her desk into his office. He told he wanted to be informed whenever she spoke with the school district's superintendent, Isaac Joseph.  

The report says Floyd was often harshly critical of Hunter's performance. During one incident, concerning a $25 million check the school system received from BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Floyd grew upset because Hunter had not stored the check in his desk, as he had told her to do, but in the district's safe. When she called him the next morning, he exploded.

"Floyd continued to raise his voice over the phone such that Hunter left her desk and ended up at the desk of a fellow district employee with the phone on speaker," the report says. "Two district employee witnesses who heard the call thought it was an irate parent and took steps to put the third floor on lockdown."

Floyd told Koretzky that he had been on a walking track in Metairie at the time and may have raised his voice because his surroundings were noisy. He also called Hunter a "perfectionist" who didn't take criticism well.

He said that the two had a friendly relationship, noting that he had loaned her money on a couple of occasions and that she took him to lunch and a movie on his birthday in August 2015, the report says. 

In her lawsuit, Hunter claims that things did not improve after she complained to administrators. She resigned in September 2015, and in February 2016 she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Then, after the EEOC declined to act, she filed her suit earlier this year. 

Koretzky concluded that Hunter's claims "had merit," though Floyd may not have explicitly violated board policy.

He outlined several steps the board could take in response to Hunter's complaints: remove Floyd from his role as president of the board, insist that he not be allowed to hold any board leadership posts without first having attended anger-management classes, or some other form of censure. 

He also recommended that the board strengthen its policies defining the proper roles of board members and administrators and warned that the school system could be at risk if Hunter decided to sue.

"The district and the board face bigger concerns should Hunter file suit seeking emotional damages," Koretzky wrote.

In the end, the board took no action against Floyd, who remains a member. 

Floyd did not respond to text and phone messages for comment Thursday.

Ricky Johnson, one of the board members who voted against hearing the report, said he was blindsided by the details of Hunter's complaints. "I never saw this coming," he said.

Marion Bonura, who also voted against hearing the report in executive session, said some of the claims were new to him when a reporter read them over the phone.

"I have not read that report," he said. Bonura said he had voted against reviewing the report because he had understood that it did not recommend Floyd's removal or suspension.

He also dismissed the number and timing of phone calls, saying that it was his understanding that the board secretary was required to be available to the president "24-7."

Melinda Doucet, another board member who voted against hearing the report, said she understood that the report alleged no ethical violations by Floyd. But, she said, "I've never read it, never seen it."

Larry Dale, the board member who moved to hear the report, remains incredulous that the board never gave it an audience. "Why do you pay for an attorney to look into charges and not even want to hear what comes back?" he asked. "Are you not curious?"

Hunter's lawyer, Michael Delesdernier, said his client remains traumatized by Floyd's actions. "She doesn't want to be a martyr; she just wants justice," he said.

Delesdernier is a former Jefferson School Board member who frequently clashed with Floyd while both were on the board. He left the board before the events covered in Koretzky's report.  

Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.