SARASOTA — On Monday, a lawsuit detailing allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation was filed against the Sarasota County School District.
The next day, the district received an offer to wrap up the case for $500,000.
Sara Blackwell, the attorney representing administrative assistant Cheraina Bonner, proposed the settlement. The deal comes on the heels of an investigation that condemned former Chief Operating Officer Jeff Maultsby for his behavior toward Bonner.
Maultsby’s misconduct was evident in the 831 text messages exchanged between him and Bonner, one of which included a video from early Christmas morning where he appeared to be drunkenly serenading her.
Maultsby resigned last week, 10 days after the conclusion of the investigation.
But he may not be the last to step down. After facing intense criticism over his mishandling of the allegations brought against Maultsby, Superintendent Todd Bowden offered to resign his job, as well, if the board would give him another top job in the district with a 10-year contract.
The School Board decided at a special meeting Tuesday to give Bowden a 30-day notice to either suspend him without pay, or terminate his employment. The board’s final decision will be made on Dec. 10. However, it would take a 4-1 supermajority vote to fire the superintendent.
Amid the controversy, Blackwell said that Bonner, who continues to work for the district, could face retaliation from her ultimate boss, who is Bowden.
“She’ll say hello to him and he won’t speak to her,” Blackwell said. “Her work environment has turned into a cold, cold environment. It’s very uncomfortable for her, and he makes it that way.”
The district has 20 days to respond to the lawsuit, but a decision on the settlement must be made in seven.
District spokeswoman Tracey Beeker confirmed in an email Wednesday that the School Board is evaluating the proposal, but declined to comment further until a settlement is reached.
In addition to the proposed settlement, Blackwell also seeks other employment opportunities for Bonner. She alleged that Maultsby had prevented Bonner from “leaving him” and pursuing other positions within the school district.
Should the district decline the offer, Blackwell said she would move forward with her own depositions, and demand all of the documents related to the case. Blackwell would also begin to work on getting a trial scheduled.