Bad Apple

Miami-Dade schools superintendent Rudy Crew has made many mistakes. Maybe too many.

But in April 2005 Schere and seven female attorneys signed two letters to Crew and the school board. They complained the superintendent had ordered district employees to refrain from speaking about pending cases. In one instance that year, they even had to subpoena district employees, who failed to show up for depositions. "It impeded our progress in our ability to defend the board," Schere says. "It was just his way of keeping control of what was reported, what was said to the board."

Eight months later board attorney Julie Ann Rico declined to renew the contracts of Schere and five other attorneys who signed the letter. "Basically Julie Ann said she wanted to bring in new people," explains Schere, who like the other women, didn't receive a severance package. "I believe Rudy Crew orchestrated our removal behind the scenes."

Of the eight lawyers who signed the letter, only Ana Segura and Melinda "Mindy" McNichols were retained by Rico, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story. "They kept Ana and Mindy to make it look like they weren't retaliating against us," Schere says. "It was a complete shock. You can see why no one at the district is going to speak out against Crew after what happened to us."

Crew couldn't intimidate Inspector General Herbert Cousins or make him break investigative protocol
Jacqueline Carini
Crew couldn't intimidate Inspector General Herbert Cousins or make him break investigative protocol

Schere sued Crew, Rico, and the school board, alleging age discrimination. "I was replaced by two people," Schere says. "One is much younger than I am, and the other one has much less experience."

Indeed the lawyers were not the only women who claim to have experienced the superintendent's wrath. Mercedes Toural served as the district's second-in-command during the first four months of Crew's administration. She was appointed to the post by Crew's predecessor, Merrett Stierheim. Toural, who earned $193,000 a year, had risen through the ranks, starting as an elementary school reading teacher. She developed the district's nationally recognized bilingual program.

Crew, she contends, immediately disliked her. After arriving in summer 2004, he transferred some of Toural's authority to other deputies. Then eight hours into a school board meeting in September that year, she stepped out for a drink of water just as board member Betsy Kaplan asked a question. Afterward, she claims, the superintendent summoned Toural; her executive assistant, Willa Young; and deputy superintendent Ofelia San Pedro to his office. Crew was upset. He said he had wanted Toural to answer the question and, she claims, "screamed and shouted at the top of his lungs. He said, 'Fuck you. And I mean all three of you. I will put your asses out on the street if that ever happens again.'"

Beginning October 3, 2004, Toural took an unpaid leave of absence following a scathing performance review from Crew. "You have been offered numerous opportunities to provide vision, leadership, and management," the superintendent wrote in his September 27 memo to Toural. "The evidence from your lack of execution demonstrates that you are neither successfully managing the day-to-day tasks nor the long-term planning required of [the position]."

Toural says her battle with Crew affected her health. She claims she developed high blood pressure and her doctor warned her she could have a stroke. A year later she resigned and filed a grievance. In a letter addressed to the school board, Toural wrote, "My health had steadily deteriorated under the threats and negative treatment of Mr. Crew.... This was the culmination of several months of a concerted pattern of discrimination and desperate treatment by the superintendent against me."

The former number two also accuses Crew of maliciously interfering with her quest for a new job with the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe in fall 2006. The coalition, which pays the school district to provide developmental services for hundreds of preschool children, at first named her the best qualified candidate to become the CEO. But then, Toural contends, Crew called a coalition board member and threatened to stop doing business with the group if she was named to the top job.

Toural filed complaints with the district's civil rights office and with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which were both dismissed. On January 25 she sued Crew in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, claiming he had demonstrated a "persistent discriminatory attitude toward Hispanic females, particularly Cuban-Americans, and his abusive, demeaning, and unfair treatment of women."

That's not all. Before filing her lawsuit, Toural complained to Susan Rothstein, then-director of the civil rights office. Rothstein passed those complaints on to the school board attorney's office.

According to a grievance Rothstein filed July 29, 2005, Crew then reneged on a promise to promote her to assistant superintendent. And finally, on June 15, 2005, the superintendent eliminated Rothstein's position; she was reassigned as a nutritional wellness coordinator, a role with little to no responsibility. She is currently on leave from the district and working for the City of South Miami.

Through his attorney Reginald Clyne, Crew denies he did anything wrong regarding Toural (Clyne couldn't be reached for comment on Rothstein's claims). "Mr. Crew has every right to state to the potential employer that he would not want to work with someone in a close manner who had a pending lawsuit against him," Clyne says.

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