An external investigation found that Gloria Hernandez-Goff, the ousted superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto, violated the district's harassment policy in making repeated comments about employees' family status and their leave history, according to documents released under the Public Records Act.
The investigation, conducted in response to a complaint filed by former Belle Haven Elementary School principal Todd Gaviglio last year, cleared Hernandez-Goff of other allegations of wrongdoing, including retaliation, discrimination and unethical behavior.
The district released the investigation documents one year after the Weekly filed a public-records request. The school board accepted Hernandez-Goff's resignation last week; her employment will be terminated this Sunday, March 31.
Gaviglio, a longtime Ravenswood educator who was appointed principal of Belle Haven in 2015, was reassigned to a district office position days after filing his complaint. He had recently adopted a baby and alleged Hernandez-Goff discriminated against administrators with babies, including by making "derogatory statements" and engaging in "practices to negatively impact their employment status," he said in his complaint.
Gaviglio declined to comment on the outcome of the investigation on the advice of legal counsel.
An attorney for Hernandez-Goff called the investigation a "grotesque waste of taxpayer dollars."
"The district spent a year and many thousands of dollars to find nothing. Seriously nothing! Why do you think she received such a lucrative severance package?" Gregory Rolen of San Francisco firm Haight Brown & Bonesteel wrote in an email to the Weekly. (Under a separation agreement with Hernandez-Goff, the district agreed to pay her $160,873 in severance.)
Ravenswood hired Van Dermyden Maddux Law Corporation, a Sacramento law firm that focuses on workplace and Title IX investigations, to conduct a monthslong probe into Gaviglio's claim. The investigation began on March 30, 2018, and was expanded twice in April and May to include additional allegations lodged by Gaviglio.
Liz Paris, senior associate attorney for Van Dermyden Maddux Law Corporation, noted in the final report that the investigation was "challenging" and included reviewing hundreds of documents and interviewing 24 people over five months. She interviewed Hernandez-Goff three times from April through August, the report shows.
Paris wrote that the district allowed for an independent investigation and provided her "complete access to all requested witnesses and documents. No party interfered with, or attempted to influence, the findings in this report."
A draft report detailing the findings was prepared eight months ago but was delayed by the investigator's discovery of a "relevant" document protected by attorney-client privilege. A district attorney sought a limited waiver of this privilege, a process that was delayed by the school board election in November, legal training for the trustees and waiting for a board meeting during which the attorney could request the waiver, Paris wrote. She received the document on Jan. 21 and then completed the final report, which is dated Feb. 6.
Paris determined under a preponderance of the evidence standard (that it's more likely than not that the conduct occurred) that Hernandez-Goff did make comments about administrators with children, including whether someone should receive a promotion because the person recently had a baby, making multiple comments related to an employee's maternity leave and telling someone that he or she "needed to decide whether to be a mother or an administrator."
These comments rose to the level of harassment, causing employees to be wary of discussing pregnancy or family leave with Hernandez-Goff and giving them "pause" when considering whether or not to have children, Paris found.
Hernandez-Goff's comments were "'severe and pervasive enough' as to adversely affect an individual's employment," the report states.
Rolen, her attorney, asserted that the report "fails to address how the factual findings constitute a policy violation" in relation to harassment.
"That conclusion was merely words on a page," he said. "Harassment is a legal standard.
The investigation also found Hernandez-Goff called an employee an "Indian princess," but did not find she made other race-based comments alleged by Gaviglio. Hernandez-Goff acknowledged saying this but told the investigator it was in a joking context.
Hernandez-Goff denied making negative comments about administrators with children and other race-based comments, according to the report.
In making her final determination on the harassment allegations, Paris found Hernandez-Goff "less credible" than Gaviglio.
Hernandez-Goff made several assertions that were not corroborated by witnesses or documents, Paris wrote, including that she conducted performance reviews of her employees, despite the fact that all principals interviewed and the district's human resources director denied this and there were no performance reviews in employees' personnel files. She also made inconsistent and contradictory statements about reassigning Gaviglio, according to the report.
Hernandez-Goff had "motive to be less than forthright," Paris wrote. "Gaviglio's allegations against her have been the subject of media attention and public scrutiny, potentially affecting her employment and reputation."
This did appear to be a factor in Hernandez-Goff's decision-making related to Gaviglio. She told Paris that his complaint "didn't faze" her but his "media stuff" prompted her to transfer him to the district office mid-year.
"He's making it very public, very ugly," Hernandez-Goff said, according to the report.
"I moved him primarily because people were not focusing on instruction ... He was leading staff to come into board members (sic) and slam me. Talk about bringing out everything about the kitchen sink. So at that point, I thought, I am going to have to remove him."
Noting it was a "close call," Paris found that Hernandez-Goff reassigned Gaviglio for reasons unrelated to his complaint.
"Although I do not sustain this allegation, Hernandez-Goff made several comments and decisions that reasonably raise concerns. She appeared unable to recall critical dates and did not have written documentation to refresh her recollection. She also provided inconsistent direction and guidance to her subordinates, creating confusion within the district office," the report states. "These factors ... raise reasonable concerns about Hernandez-Goff's judgment and professionalism."
Paris determined that Hernandez-Goff did not misuse Title I funds, withhold student information, ignore special-education directives or direct schools to falsify data for textbook inspections, as Gaviglio had alleged.
The report notes that these are not legal findings but rather factual and policy determinations meant to "facilitate the rendering of legal advice by the employer's counsel."
Board President Tamara Sobomehin could not say whether the findings of this investigation factored into the board's February decision to place Hernandez-Goff on paid administrative leave and then sign a separation agreement with her, citing the confidentiality of closed-session discussions.
In a statement, she emphasized that her "responsibility as a school board trustee is to ensure that our district is responsive to the values, beliefs, and priorities of our community that lead to student achievement and success for all students.
"With that in mind, one of my strategic priorities for Ravenswood this year is to establish trust and strengthen relationships with our families, staff, community members, and partners. I personally appreciate everyone's understanding and patience with the Board during this transition of the superintendent position, and I want you to know that I believe we are in strong and capable hands under the leadership of our acting Superintendent, Gina Sudaria," she wrote. "I look forward to a vision of strong community engagement and inclusive stakeholding around the success and support of our students and staff."