After Cobb County School District lead investigator Mary Finlayson confirmed her termination, one of only two other employees in her department said Tuesday he’s also planning to jump ship.
Jay Morrissey, an investigations manager with the school system, confirmed Tuesday he was resigning from his position effective May 31. He said his resignation was for “personal reasons” and wouldn’t comment further on the decision.
Finlayson, former Cobb Schools director of professional standards and ethics, sent an expanded version of her letter (which ran Tuedsay in the Journal’s editorial page) to all school board members Sunday night, detailing her firing and what she alleges was treatment more befitting of a common criminal than a seven-year employee in good standing.
According to the school district’s response to an Open Records Request by the Journal, there was no paper trail leading to a disciplinary file, and Finlayson did not have a letter of termination or a resignation letter.
Jay Dillon, director of communications for the school district, said it is district policy not to comment on personnel matters.
Finlayson said Tuesday she was told last Thursday that she was fired simply because of budget cuts and reductions in central office staff. The school board is scheduled to vote Thursday to cut 16 central office positions to save $1.1 million.
Finlayson said she’s exploring her options to obtain legal counsel as the district does not have a policy in place allowing non-certified employees to appeal termination.
On the CCSD website, Finlayson’s name and contact information have been removed and replaced with contact information of secretary Christy Black.
Finlayson and her team have been widely criticized after leading investigations into several high-profile cases accusing Cobb administrators of allegedly failing to report instances of alleged sexual assault. Several cases resulted in termination or suspension.
Critics argued that the district took a heavy-handed approach to the state’s mandatory reporting law, taking the stance that Cobb teachers and principals were “guilty until proven innocent.”
One recent case was that of Tapp Middle School Principal Jerry Dority, who was charged criminally for failure to report in 2012.
Finlayson said she recommended Dority not be terminated.
Just three months after those charges, Kell High School Principal Trudie Donovan resigned after similar allegations were made. Criminal charges against Donovan were dismissed by the Cobb Solicitor General’s Office last month citing lack of evidence.
“When the issue arose with Donovan, the attorney advised (human resources chief Michael Shanahan) that there was no other option but to terminate Donovan since they terminated Dority who had also been arrested and that not firing Trudie would lead to a discrimination charge against the district by Dority,” she said.
Finlayson also disputed claims that employees were forced to defend their innocence, noting that upon taking her role as director, her department implemented an electronic case management system to track investigations and required all investigations to be digitally recorded to ensure professional conduct and accountability.
“It is not true that staff are assumed guilty until proven innocent and a review of any investigative file and the audio tapes would prove that,” she said.
Though questions about the way her department handled cases swirled following the recent dismissals, Finlayson said the facts support each of the findings made by her department.
Finlayson said her office worked with law enforcement to look into state mandated reporting cases and she presented findings of fact to Shanahan, who brought forward the information to several district officials, including the superintendent and board attorney, who then brought each recommendation to the board for approval.
“I did the job that was asked of me, providing thorough investigations and detailed facts to the decision makers,” she said.
Treated as a criminal?
In Finlayson’s email to the school board, she said she was only given 30 minutes to leave her office after being notified of her termination Thursday and hoped her story would help remaining employees that will potentially be laid off in the face of this year’s budget crunch.
“I hope that they will not be treated in the same undignified way,” she said. “I believe it is important for you to know the manner in which this was handled.”
She said she was told to meet with Shanahan on Thursday at 2 p.m. and not given a reason. She cited district policy as requiring advance notice be given to an employee of his or her termination.
“I was not afforded the same rights I was required to give all (my former) employees,” Finlayson said.
Finlayson said Shanahan “read a script” telling her her position was cut due to the budget and told her to be out of the building within the next 30 minutes. She said the official reason given for her firing — budget cuts — doesn’t hold water, as her job was budgeted alongside the rest of the district employees for the fiscal year through June 30.
“They cleared out all staff from our office suite,” she said. “I was not allowed to say goodbye to anyone. I was treated as if I had committed a crime or was a danger to others.”
Finlayson also cited policy stating the district requires “progressive discipline” prior to terminating an employee for performance concerns. If that was the case, she hadn’t received any, she said.
“I have never been told by anyone in administration of any concerns with my job performance or with the way investigations were conducted, and my performance evaluations have been excellent,” she said.
Finlayson said she wrote Shanahan a note expressing her concern about two recent cases that were connected. She said she considered the handling of the cases inconsistent and a potential liability.
Shanahan didn’t respond to the note, she said. That was the week before she was fired.
Board members respond
Regarding the district’s policy on the handling of accused educators, Board Chair Randy Scamihorn said the district is still in the process of reviewing its policies.
“Things are still changing and things are still being reviewed and there’s no conclusive results yet,” Scamihorn said.
Board member Brad Wheeler said he didn’t know about how Finlayson’s termination was handled, but felt that all district employees should be held to the same standard and treated with respect.
“I think there’s been a lot of concerns lately with HR,” Wheeler said. “Every one of them needs to be thoroughly looked at and dealt with in a fair and impartial manner. We need to treat people the right way and do the right thing. … I’m concerned as a board member that we’re doing the appropriate things, but I’m not part of these investigations, that was done by senior staff. I hope they are doing jobs as they should because it’s important that they do.”