Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina issues apology, settles defamation suit

Nov 19 2014

As it appeared in the New Haven Register
By Mary E. O’Leary, moleary@nhregister.com,

NEW HAVEN >> The woman, whose charges set off a probe into alleged record tampering at James Hillhouse High School, has gotten an apology.

Hillhouse Principal Kermit Carolina, to settle a defamation suit, sent an apology to former Assistant Principal Shirley Love Joyner for some of the things he said after Joyner’s complaints resulted in an official investigation by the New Haven Board of Education.

Her suit was also against Carolina’s attorney, Michael Jefferson.

Both agreed to a monetary settlement, according to Joyner’s attorney, Joseph Garrison, the terms of which were not made public.

Joyner already had received a $35,000 settlement from the New Haven Board of Education when she brought a suit charging it had failed to protect her as a whistleblower.

The settlement with Carolina appears to be the last piece in a series of events that started at the beginning of the 2011 school year over what turned out to be a changed description of two courses on transcripts for some student-athletes at Hillhouse.

Joseph Garrison, Joyner’s attorney, said the most important thing to Joyner was that her good reputation as an educator be restored.

“I’m pleased with the apology and especially where he said he made false statements about me, about my work habits. That pleases me,” Joyner said in an interview. “I worked decades to earn the positive reputation that I have earned in this community and I really could not allow Mr. Kermit Carolina and Mr. Michael Jefferson to distort that reputation.”

Carolina, in his apology, said Joyner’s concerns about grade tampering and alteration of transcripts were “genuine” and that her decisions to bring them to the school board were “appropriate.”

The principal, in his apology, said the guidance department is responsible “for the accuracy and authenticity of students’ records” and Joyner was “largely responsible for overseeing and executing this important charge.”

Carolina further states that her actions “were professionally motivated and ethically responsible.”

The Hillhouse principal admits in the letter he signed that Joyner “was not conducting a witch hunt but rather presented evidence in support of her position.”

“I regret any false statement which I made that caused any harm to Mrs. Joyner, to her reputation or to her standing in the community. I apologize for any pain or humiliation which Mrs. Joyner suffered as a result of statements which I made or which my attorney, Michael Jefferson, made,” Carolina wrote.

When Joyner wasn’t on duty when a fight broke out in the lunchroom, Carolina sought a formal meeting with the human resources director charging her with “insubordination and unprofessional behavior.”

In his apology, Carolina wrote: “She was not insubordinate and she carried out all her duties responsibly and professionally.”

One of his main contentions was that Joyner made her complaints to the school board because of her friendship with John DeStefano Jr., who was mayor at the time.

“I had no evidence that this was the case and regret bringing Mayor DeStefano into his matter at all,” Carolina wrote.

Carolina got a three-day suspension as a result of the probe, a punishment that was upheld by a labor arbitrator.

The arbitrator, Peter Adomeit, however, said Joyner’s charges were “often wrong” and that many of her allegations “were not substantiated.”

Hillhouse Assistant Principal John Nguyen and Riverside Principal Wanda Gibbs also were issued two-day suspensions by then-Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo.

There were various explanations answering the complaints brought by Joyner.

For instance, changes on some grades were authorized by teachers because of a faulty computer system, while Carolina’s decision to not mandate 160 days of attendance was within his purview and it was not applied exclusively to student-athletes, according to the arbitrator.

Adomeit also ruled that when Carolina allowed a student to graduate without documentation that she had completed community service, the principal was personally familiar with the case to allow this.

The issue for Carolina, according to the arbitrator, concerned allowing two English courses taken by two Hillhouse football players to be marked as college courses, rather than summer courses.

The changes were made by Hillhouse teacher Ed Scarpa at the request of Hillhouse coach Tom Dyer, while Carolina and Dyer watched, according to the arbitrator.

The arbitrator found that the changes were made for the purpose of NCAA eligibility for the two students who were Division 1 prospects. They originally had received Ds in English I and English II, but got either As or A-pluses when they took the courses again in the summer at Riverside Academy.

“Mr. Carolina’s explanation that he was simply authorizing what his subordinates had told him was the practice and had no intent to make the transcript look better for the NCAA is not, in light of the contrary evidence, subject to being accepted. They were all up to something. They were making the transcript look better for the NCAA. Coach Dyer credibly said that (he) told the grievant (Carolina) that this indeed was the purpose,” Adomeit wrote.

After the arbitrator’s ruling came out this summer, Carolina continued to maintain that he did nothing wrong, that the master list of courses does not make a distinction for a summer course and marking it as such would give the NCAA the wrong impression.

He could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Garrison said they settled and agreed to the apology, rather than going to court, because restoring her reputation was Joyner’s main concern and a court cannot order an apology.

“One thing that a jury cannot do is order an apology. The completeness of the apology was very important to Mrs. Joyner,” Garrison said.



Share this Post

Joseph D. Garrison

About the Author

Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C.

You deserve justice. We are here to fight for you.

Best Lawyers

Let Us Review Your Case

    We will respond to your message promptly. Although we will keep your message strictly confidential, please note that contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship.

    Client Experiences

    During a very difficult employment situation, I was referred to Joe Garrison. Recognizing the volatile and time sensitive nature of my employment situation, Mr. Garrison met with me immediately (on the weekend no less). He listened to the details of my case, was able to think through possible creative solutions to offer the employer, and was responsive to my myriad of questions. He understood my concerns about litigation versus settlement, and he worked to find the best resolution possible. I am grateful to have had his support at a very difficult time. —J.C., New Haven, CT

    You will never meet a more knowledgeable and compassionate professional than Steve Fitzgerald. My employment situation was very complex, and Attorney Fitzgerald kept me focused while remaining extremely adept and “thinking on his feet.” Should the need present itself again, I would never seek anyone else’s counsel regarding employment issues. I cannot recommend him highly enough. — J.R., New Haven, CT

    Nina Pirrotti provided outstanding legal advice and was trustworthy, dependable, and responsive. From the start, I was confident that her knowledge and experience would obtain favorable results. On a more personal note, I enjoyed working with her and her staff and felt I was included in every part of the process. The dedication, concern, and interest in me as a client was greatly appreciated, and Nina has earned my highest recommendation. — J.H., Monroe, CT

    I recently found myself in need of a lawyer in handling a dispute with my former employer. I was fortunate to retain Josh Goodbaum as my legal counsel. His legal skills knowledge and professionalism shone through in every step of the process resulting in a very positive result. I highly recommend Josh if you find yourself in need of legal counsel. — S.R., Guilford, CT

    When I go to a lawyer for advice, I am usually anxious, particularly the first meeting. Amanda DeMatteis was clear in describing my options and immediately set me at ease. Realistic assessment is important, and Amanda was clear as to how to set up the case and the direction she felt we should go. I had total confidence in her abilities and knew I was being well represented against a large corporation. More importantly, we were successful! —N.M., Haddam, CT

    Proven Results & Personalized Attention When You Need It Most

    American Law Institute Super Lawyers American College of Trial Lawyers Best Lawyers The College of Labor and Employment Lawyers
    Back to Top
    (203) 815-1716