SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - The Sarasota County School District has notified its chief operating officer that his contract will be terminated after a months-long investigation into sexual harassment allegations was finalized.
Sproat Workplace Investigations, operated by Vicki Sproat, was hired by the Sarasota County School Board to investigate claims made by Cheraina Bonner against her boss, COO and assistant superintendent, Jeffrey Maultsby.
Bonner was Maultsby’s assistant and says she was sexually harassed then faced discrimination and retaliation when she reported the harassment to the District’s Superintendent, Dr. Todd Bowden.
Sproat took numerous depositions and poured over 800 text messages and videos as evidence of the alleged harassment, including messages with kissy and winky face emojis and “I love you’s."
The report also includes interviews with at least 22 people involved, including Bonner who described the nature of the text messages to investigators. “He said do you miss me already?" Bonner said to investigators. "I said no, lol it’s work related. I need the waivers to post the positions and he said, yes you do. And I said do what? And he said miss me.”
Documentation shows Maultsby’s response to this allegation, claiming he and Bonner were “always joking."
But Sproat’s 118-page investigation report found that there was evidence to conclude Maultsby did sexually harass Bonner, that he did create a hostile work environment and that he threatened to retaliate against her when she reported her concerns.
Sara Blackwell, Bonner’s attorney, said Maultsby sent a text message that stated “snitches get stitches” to Bonner when he found out she was planning to report the harassment. The investigator found it reasonable for Bonner to interpret that text, as well as an article he sent her of a whistleblower’s murder, to be threatening of retaliation.
“At the end of the day, we have high standards for our employees,” said Superintendent Dr. Todd Bowden. "I think we have even higher standards for people that occupy positions of chief operating officer and assistant superintendent. And it was very clear to me after reading all of the interviews and examining all of the exhibits that Mr. Maultsby was not living up to those standards.”
But another one of the reports’ findings is that Dr. Bowden did not take prompt or appropriate steps to investigate Bonner’s claims. In fact, investigators determined once Bonner reported Maultsby to Dr. Bowden, he went right to Maultsby and told him what she said.
“I do not believe that once we’ve had a chance to examine the report and receive my rebuttal, that I’ve done anything that warrants the same response that Mr. Maultsby received, but ultimately that’s a decision that’s left up to the board," said Dr. Bowden in response to the report.
At least one member of the School Board disagrees, calling for Dr. Bowden to resign.
“If you don’t take this seriously, what do you take seriously?" questioned School Boardmember Bridget Ziegler. "I believe that the report speaks for itself. I believe that the findings were substantial. I believe that the evidence was substantial and I believe really, the time has come for the board to not deliberate any further but to consider out what is the best plan forward for our future, for our community, for our students.”
Dr. Bowden says he plans to respond to the report’s findings at a special meeting with the school board on November 5. He said he isn’t comfortable discussing his opinion before then, but did add that he disagrees with the report findings and several conclusions made by Sproat.
Maultsby will have 15 days to respond to the district’s decision to terminate his contract and appeal this decision. Dr. Bowden has recommended his termination to the School Board for review and approval on November 19.