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Weatherly, principal named in civil suit

Published January 02. 2019 12:28PM

A four-count civil suit seeking $50,000 in each of the claims has been filed in Carbon County Court against Anthony DeSpirito of Weatherly and the Weatherly Area School District, alleging the defendant slandered and defamed the plaintiff when he pursued a full-time teaching position in the Hazleton Area School District.

John Shelley of Hazleton, through his legal counsel, Kevin L. Lovitz of Philadelphia, alleges defamation, internal interference with economic relations and false light against DeSpirito, as well as negligent supervision on the part of the school district.

In the pleadings, Shelley states he worked at the Weatherly Area Middle School as a special education long-term substitute from August 2016 to January 2017, during which time DeSpirito was the principal there, and that after his tenure there, he was hired as a substitute teacher in the Hazleton district. Shelley said in December 2016, he requested a personal letter of recommendation from DeSpirito for future use in connection with potential job opportunities.

The plaintiff said DeSpirito provided the recommendation letter via email, but it contained grammatical and factual errors. When Shelley provided a new version of the reference letter which contained corrections, DeSpirito indicated he was in agreement with the revisions, acknowledging he had written the first letter in haste, the complaint states. It further indicates DeSpirito places a “live signature” on the corrected letter.

Shelley said in January 2018, he uploaded the corrected letter to a portal maintained by the Hazleton district in connection with a full-time teaching position being advertised. The complaint states Shelley later was asked to participate in a phone conference with Debra Yanuzzi, director of special education, and Superintendent Brian Uplinger, both of the Hazleton district, about the reference letter having been “forged.” Shelley said he was eventually told by the district officials he was no longer being considered for the full-time position and that he was also being relieved of his substitute teaching post.

Shelley indicates in the complaint that when he tried to explain the circumstances of the corrected reference letter to Yanuzzi and Uplinger, they “rejected plaintiff’s explanation and told him it was contrary to what he had been told by DeSpirito.”

Shelley contends DeSpirito knowingly made false, defamatory and misleading statements to the Hazleton administration that were in reckless disregard of his rights and interests. The suit contends statements made by DeSpirito constituted an abuse of privilege and were personally motivated against the plaintiff solely for the purpose of causing him to suffer harm and damage to his career and professional reputation.

The plaintiff contends he suffered economic loss in the form of back pay, loss of employment, loss of benefits and loss of future employment.

The suit argues the school district had a duty to supervise, employ and control DeSpirito when he committed the wrongful and defamatory acts that are alleged, stating the district failed to maintain any policies or procedures with respect to the dissemination and preparation of reference letters, providing oral references on behalf of its persons, or in the training of its personnel not to engage in behaviors which could potentially interfere or defame its personnel while providing such references.

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