Silence Broken: Details of Turnbaugh’s Resignation from Centennial Revealed
Dr. Thomas Turnbaugh quietly resigned from his post as Centennial School District's Superintendent of Schools in late 2010 after what court documents allege was a year filled with instances of intimidation and sexual harassment.
A popular Centennial School District administrator recently filed a civil lawsuit that details several alleged incidents of sexual harassment perpetrated by former Superintendent Thomas Turnbaugh.
According to the suit filed in the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Donna Dunar, current Willow Dale Elementary School principal and former director of elementary education for Centennial, was “denied promotion, demoted and faces possible discharge” for reporting Turnbaugh’s misconduct.
Anita Alberts, who is representing Dunar in the suit, filed the paperwork with the court in June 2011. The filing comes on the heels of another civil rights suit against the district brought by former Assistant Superintendent of Schools Sandy Homel.
Turnbaugh abruptly resigned from the district in late 2010, after just a little more than a year of service. Other than a press release stating “the decision to resign was solely Dr. Turnbaugh’s,” the district offered no comment on his departure.
The suit alleges several instances, beginning in July 2010 when Dunar became the director of elementary education, where Turnbaugh would “get physically close to [Dunar] and in her face.”
The suit also alleges Turnbaugh made advances toward Dunar, saying things such as “I want to run away with you” and “you just strike me that you would be a lot of fun… a couple of drinks; one thing leads to another…”
According to the court documents, Dunar was mortified when Turnbaugh “inferred [she] should be receptive to his advances because her husband suffered a stroke in 2005.”
The court documents say Dunar told School Board President Andrew Pollock about Turnbaugh’s advances and that she filed an internal complaint with the school district.
“Pollock spoke of Marilyn Monroe, discouraging [Dunar’s] complaint by inferring attractive women shouldn’t complain of men’s advances,” according to the court documents.
The suit alleges Pollock suggested Dunar should “wait and see” rather than following through with the complaint, as Turnbaugh would probably only receive a “slap on the wrist.”
According to the court documents, when Dunar returned from discussing the claim with Pollock, Turnbaugh came to her office with “fists clenched, leaned over her desk … and loudly demanded she come to his office.”
Once in his office, Turnbaugh “demanded she tell him what she was going to do,” because with two prior charges “his strained relationship with her was problematic for him,” according to the lawsuit.
”Tired, shaking, bullied and coerced,” Dunar agreed to withdraw her complaint “so that he would let her leave [the office],” according to the suit.
The court documents say “Turnbaugh retaliated against [Dunar] by doubling her workload. He pestered her constantly and watched her like a hawk to force her to resign.”
According to the suit, Dunar renewed her internal complaint in Nov. 2010, but she was unaware that “Turnbaugh’s employment contract required all investigations of his conduct to be secret, with prior notice to him, and prohibited the public school district from disclosing any wrongdoing discovered.”
In the answer to the complaint filed with the court on Wednesday, CSD affirms that Dunar did in fact file two sexual harassment complaints against Turnbaugh.
The answer also says, ”following a prompt investigation into her internal complaints, the former superintendent was forced to resign on Dec. 6, 2010.”
However, in the court documents Centennial’s lawyers said, “concluding that Turnbaugh’s contract required secrecy and prohibited the school district from disclosing any wrongdoing” was nothing more than a “bald assertion" and an "unsubstantiated conclusion.”
Upper Southampton Patch has filed a Right-to-Know request with the district for a copy of Turnbaugh’s contract.
The district has yet to respond to the request, but similar language to what is alluded to in Dunar’s suit does appear in Turnbaugh’s contract with a previous school district.
The suit alleges that when Turnbaugh resigned in Dec 2010, Pollock called an emergency meeting where he told administrators, including Dunar, “no one was allowed to discuss the resignation with anyone.”
And while some school board members have made veiled references alluding to Turnbaugh as a tyrannical leader, previously no one from the district has commented on his resignation, citing the inability to discuss matters of personnel.
In an interview earlier this week, Pollock reiterated the policy of not discussing matters of personnel. However, he did say that all internal complaints are handed over to a third party for investigation.
“[The matter] is investigated and a recommendation is made by the person doing the investigation,” he said.
Pollock said action is then taken, in accordance with the level of the complaint.
He attributed the decision to eliminate Dunar’s position to a declining student population, and said that the school board felt in light of the recent cuts in staffing that district’s administration should be pared down as well.
Pollock said the board typically defers to the superintendent of schools for any reorganization in the structure of administration.
“[The superintendent] comes to us for approval,” he said. “And, generally speaking, we allow [the superintendent] to have the organization she wants. “
“The organization she wants, not necessarily the people,” he added.
He said because of decreasing enrollment numbers it seemed prudent to eliminate the director positions and hire an assistant superintendent.
He said the district posted the assistant superintendent position, so that “[Dunar] or any other qualified candidate who was interested could apply.”
Pollock said he could not say when or where the positions were posted, or even comment as to whether or not Dunar had applied, citing matters of personnel.
According to paperwork filed with the court, "since the filing of the complaint, Dunar has taken an administrative position with the Pennsbury School District and has resigned from Centennial. Her last day of work at Centennial is scheduled to be Friday, Aug. 26.”
The lawyers on both sides of the case did not respond to multiple requests for comment.