A former Robertson County Schools principal has filed a civil suit for charges of discrimination against the district.
Teno Geritano, who was head of the Robertson County Alternative Learning Center, alleges that he was discriminated against on the basis of his age.
As an administrator in education, Geritano had been a principal for 11 years in Illinois before accepting the principal position at the Alternative Program in 2017.
The school district has since renamed the school Robertson County Phoenix Academy.
According to a copy of the complaint filed in the Robertson County Circuit Court last December, Geritano was informed at a budget meeting in April 2021 by Director of Schools Chris Causey that the alternative school would be dissolved and his position as principal along with it.
The complaint alleges that Causey assured Geritano that a similar position in the district, similar in rank and salary, would be available for him for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.
In July, Geritano said he received a call from Beth Batson, Supervisor of Human Resources for the district who asked Geritano whether he received any paperwork from Causey at the April meeting in regard to his position being dissolved. Geritano said he had not.
On advice from a Tennessee Education Association (TEA) representative, Geritano said he followed up with Batson in an email exchange on July 22, 2021 further reiterating that he never received any such letter. Geritano said he had not received anything in writing regarding the dissolution of the Alternative Program or his position since the April budget meeting.
Geritano said he was notified by Batson on Aug. 20, 2021, that he would have a position as a permanent substitute, beginning on Aug. 23, at an annual salary of $25,000 less than what he was making as principal.
On Aug. 23, Geritano said he met with district reps at Springfield High School, signed employment paperwork and received his contract for the permanent substitute position. His salary, however, was not discussed, according to Geritano. Geritano said he wasn’t informed of his reduced salary until Aug. 27, after returning his signed contract.
Geritano said he was removed from his health insurance plan and did not receive any pay for the entire month of August because of the dissolution of his position and, according to Geritano, because of a lack of timeliness on the part of Causey in placing him in another position. After signing the contract with Springfield High School as a permanent sub, Geritano said he was informed by Causey that his contract would not be renewed after the 2021-22 school year.
Several weeks into his job as a substitute, Geritano said he became aware that the Robertson County Alternative Program was actually never dissolved, and that the principal’s position was still intact.
The complaint alleges that not only was the principal position not eliminated, but a second principal position was created for the Alternative Program by Causey.
Geritano said he was effectively replaced by two individuals, Cody Capps and Mary Jo Holmes. The complaint alleges they are both younger than Geritano with less working experience and are personal friends of Causey.
According to the Robertson County Schools website, Capps and Holmes are both listed as principals of Robertson County Phoenix Academy.
In December 2020, just weeks before her retirement, Assistant Director of Schools Stephanie Mason wrote a letter of recommendation for Geritano, highlighting his work over the previous three years as principal. Geritano provided the letter to The Connection.
“It has been my privilege to work with Teno Geritano for the past for years while he has served as principal of the district’s alternative school. During this time, I’ve had the opportunity to observe Mr. Geritano in numerous situations and to work with him on multiple projects. Regardless of the situation or project, he has always presented himself as a skilled, caring and knowledgeable educator,” she wrote.
Claim of age discrimination
Geritano claims in the lawsuit that his removal from an administrative position was a retaliatory adverse employment action because it was taken to penalize him for being an older male. He also claims his employer refused to provide him with another administrative position because of his status as an older American.
Geritano further claims that his career in education is irreparably damaged due to the actions of Causey and Robertson County Schools.
“Dr. Causey just really failed in how he handled the situation with me, and now it’s cost me,” Geritano said in a separate conversation. “The TEA lawyer was able to get me a job back because Causey screwed it up. But for one, it was $25,000 less than what I was making, and two, going from a principal to a permanent substitute, it basically ruined my career. How do you explain going from a principal to a permanent sub?”
The lawsuit includes three counts. The first is a count of employment discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).
Geritano had been over 40 years of age during his time as principal and was 53 at the time of his dismissal. The complaint claims that Geritano suffered the adverse employment action because of his advanced age, as he was subsequently replaced by two younger and less qualified individuals, conduct that is prohibited by the ADEA.
The remaining two counts involve the claims that Causey and the school district misled Geritano when he was informed that his principal position was being dissolved.
The lawsuit alleges that Causey and the school district breached the verbal contract made to Geritano, where he was promised a new job for more than one year.
Asking for $500,000
As relief, Geritano is asking for general damages in the amount of $500,000, along with special damages in an amount sufficient to all of his lost wages, including overtime, holidays, insurance, and other incurred expenses, as well as punitive damages pursuant to the ADEA.
“I believe there is a lot more involving Chris Causey,” Geritano said. “How this affects me is that I basically have no legs in applying for jobs. I have to not bring it up, because if I do there’s just no way to explain being moved from an administrator to a teacher. I just think it’s interesting how this guy does business as director of schools.”
Causey and the school board, including their attorney, declined to comment on the lawsuit. According to Geritano, they have denied most of his claims in the lawsuit.
Last week, Geritano submitted a grievance to Springfield High School Principal Larry Staggs claiming that he received no observations as a substitute teacher and that no Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model observations were conducted on him over the past school year.
Geritano, who currently lives in White House and has four children who attend local schools in the area, said he would prefer to remain in Robertson County, but is unsure if he will be able to do so because of his job situation.
Geritano also said that in the past week a Behavioral Liaison position became available in the school district. He says that his experience and qualifications would be a good fit for the job and he would be willing to drop the entire lawsuit and grievances if awarded the position.
The Connection was able to view Geritano’s personnel file at the Robertson County School Board through the Freedom of Information Act. The file did not show any incidents or concerns regarding his job performance during his time of employment with the school system.