Former Vermont principal fired over Black Lives Matter post moved to Maine, rejected settlement

  • Tiffany Riley

Valley News
Published: 12/22/2021 4:08:40 PM
Modified: 12/22/2021 4:08:25 PM

School officials in Windsor earlier this year offered to settle a lawsuit with former Windsor School Principal Tiffany Riley, who was fired following Facebook comments she made criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, according to documents in federal court.

But Riley, who contends the Mount Ascutney School District Board improperly fired her, rejected the offer and appears prepared to argue that the termination, which drew widespread attention, has impacted her ability to get another job in the education field.

A certificate of service filed on June 21 in U.S. District Court in Rutland shows that the defendants made “an offer of judgment” to Riley’s attorneys, and lawyers on both sides of the case confirm an offer was made, though they won’t comment on the amount.

“There was an offer of judgment that was declined,” William Meub, Riley’s Rutland-based attorney, said via email this week. “The case is continuing to move forward, as cases do. We are in the ‘discovery’ phase, including doing depositions.”

And Pietro Lynn, the Burlington-based attorney representing the School Board and the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union in the case, said the district’s insurer “offered a sum to resolve the case” but that settlement terms offered in litigation are confidential.

“Litigation is expensive, and there is always risk,” Lynn said via email. “It is sensible to resolve cases if you can. We were not able to reach an agreement.”

Riley filed her lawsuit in early summer of 2020, a few weeks after she was placed on paid administrative leave from her job as principal of the preK-12 school, saying she had been fired unjustly and that school officials had also infringed on her right to free speech.

The School Board had taken action after Riley had made a Facebook post on her personal account in June 2020 that said, “I firmly believe Black Lives Matter, but I DO NOT agree with coercive measures taken to get this point across; some of which are falsified in an attempt to prove a point.”

She also wrote that “(w)hile I want to get behind BLM, I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race.”

Riley had worked in Vermont schools for about two decades, including five years as principal in Windsor. A Woodstock High School graduate, she holds a master’s degree in education leadership from Castleton University.

Meub, her attorney, this week said she “has not been able to find a job in education, but she continues to apply for jobs. She had to sell her house. She is temporarily living in Maine and has a job essentially as a store employee.”

Riley, who was making $113,000 a year as principal in Windsor, formed a company selling soaps, bath soaks and other herbal products from her Reading, Vt., home in September 2020, according to state records.

A September court filing by Meub’s law firm indicates that her attorneys intend to present testimony that could shed light on Riley’s economic losses and inability to get another principal’s job because of her firing. A discovery certificate shows that Arthur Woolf, a retired University of Vermont economics professor, and Michael Deweese, a retired Vermont school superintendent, will be expert witnesses for Riley.

The School Board disputed that it had fired her in June 2020 — it voted to terminate her on July 27, 2020, then issued a written decision in mid-October of that year, weeks after a required termination hearing, which affirmed her ouster.

But U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford ruled last March that the School Board “terminated” Riley’s employment as principal on June 12, 2020, noting that the School Board had issued a written statement to the school community that day that read, in part, “we are resolved that she will no longer lead our school.”

School officials contend that other factors also contributed to her termination, including that Riley displayed a “refusal to admit fault” and didn’t work with the superintendent on an apology to the school community for her Facebook posts.

Although a trial had been slated for February, Lynn, the school district’s attorney, said he thinks it will more likely be held in the spring.

“The district contests both liability and the claimed damages,” he said. “We are comfortable with the facts established so far. We welcome the opportunity to try the case to a panel of Vermont jurors.”

John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com or 603-727-3217.



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