Cause or coincidence? Deb Caldieri, South Hadley schoolteacher, terminated after supporting Healthy Workplace Bill

Deb Caldieri, the South Hadley, Massachusetts schoolteacher who dared to criticize her school’s response to the bullying that led to the 2010 suicide of teenager Phoebe Prince, has received her final termination notice, just weeks after testifying in support of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill.

Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, who first broke the story of how Caldieri was being bullied by South Hadley school administrators, wrote a follow-up piece yesterday:

The persecution and humiliation of Deb Caldieri, the teacher who responded to the suicide of Phoebe Prince with a compassion so utterly lacking elsewhere in South Hadley High School, is complete. She was fired last week.

Gus Sayer, the school district’s superintendent, sent a letter to Caldieri – who went on unpaid medical leave in December because of her multiple sclerosis – saying he couldn’t wait around any longer to see whether the symptoms would subside enough for her to return to work. Those symptoms got worse after Caldieri was punished for speaking out about Phoebe Prince’s treatment at the high school.

Cullen goes on to describe the supposed efforts that Sayer made to contact Caldieri to discuss her situation. I’d suggest reading the full column to learn how this played out, as Cullen did an excellent job of interviewing Sayer in an effort to get to the heart of the matter.

Cause or coincidence?

Not mentioned in the column is the fact that Caldieri was terminated roughly two weeks after she publicly described her experiences in testimony supporting the Healthy Workplace Bill, which would provide severely bullied workers with a legal claim against their employers and individual tormenters. As reported here earlier, she spoke before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development as one of many supporters of the legislation.

Her testimony attracted statewide media coverage, and it is unlikely that this escaped the attention of the South Hadley school administrators. The timing of her termination — the final step of a long process of pushing her out of a job and career — certainly raises suspicions.

Hopefully not the end of the story

I’m not Ms. Caldieri’s lawyer, but if you ask me, she’s got the makings of a legal claim, unlike many targets of workplace bullying she supported with her brave testimony. In addition to rights grounded in her union’s collective bargaining agreement, there’s the possibility of disability discrimination and termination in violation of public policy (i.e., fired for exercising her right to testify before a legislative committee), among other potential claims.

Of course, the possibility of legal action is only part of the story. Deb Caldieri has been mentally and physically beaten up by these events, and what’s at stake is the quality of the rest of her life. I dearly hope there will be a better ending to what has been a terrible, tragic, outrageous story so far.

In addition, we must ask: What in heaven’s name is going on in South Hadley? Did they not learn a thing from the bullying that led Phoebe Prince to take her own life? How can they expect children to treat one another with decency and dignity, when they’ve mistreated a dedicated teacher in such a horrible way?


To help Deb Caldieri: Via Ray Hershel of, “Friends of Deb Caldieri have set up a fund to help her with medical and living expenses. Donations can be made to the Deb Caldieri Benefit Fund in care of People’s Bank at 1240 Sumner Avenue, Springfield, Mass.  01108. You can also donate at any People’s Bank.”

13 responses

  1. Wonderful synopsis of recent events in Deb’s life. South Hadley Principal and Superintendent have been brutal toward Deb, pointing toward a systemmic pattern of bullying behavior. Deb’s plight clearly demonstrates how it is absolutely essential that outside forces are required in order to intervene when a (school) system perverts their authority to properly administer their responsibilities.

  2. Bullying at work is bad enough — but to model that behavior at a school in front of children is frighening — and believe me no matter how hard the adults may ( or may not) try to hide their bad behaviors,the kids will pick up on it. Now, a whole genertion of potential bullies is seeing that bullying pays. We can only hope and pray that the legal system works for this poor brave woman. South Hadely school distrct has truely given their students an AP course in bullying.

  3. Sometimes good people pay a high price for doing the right thing. It is obvious the school’s administration lacks compassion for their employees and students. The message has been received by their teachers and the culture will deteriorate and, ultimately, the students will pay the price with a below average education.

  4. I’m praying that she has fight left in her, and that the people she needs to help her fight find their way to her now.

    As for the “What in heaven’s name is going on in South Hadley?” part, I don’t think heaven has anything to do with it. What terrible message does it send to students there when one of the few adults with any scrap of compassion and common sense is bullied and fired? I’ll tell you what message: “Don’t even think of fighting back. Just take it. Don’t ever hope for better.”

    Why the culprits haven’t been shunned is beyond me. I think shunning is long overdue for a comeback.

  5. This is tragic, and until lawmakers step up to the plate and do something,this kind of abuse will continue. Unfortunately there is more than bullying going on here. Many employers love to find a way to terminate sick employees, especially ones with chronic illness. It is illegal to do so for the illness itself, so they find other ways to get rid of what they are sick of dealing with, and in so many ways it is discrimination. This School district should be sued and called out for this humiliation on this poor woman. I know first hand what she is going through and i was terminated in January after being bullied for 10 years by a narcisstic boss, I was severely abused verbally and in every other way imaginable. I too had disabilities, i suffered a brain tumor in 1997, and where many people never return to the same jobs after somethng like what i had, i fought hard to do so. What i got for it was years of abuse and constant humiliation, the worst bullying story i have heard is my own. I went out sick in January with ptsd and i was terminated immediatley when my doctor asked for reasonable accomodations for me to return. I am sorry for what this woman is going through and i hope justice can be served. It is hell and it is a long process, that is profoundly devastating on the entire family.

  6. This is very sad and unfortunately until lawmakers get the point on how severe bullying in the workplace is, it will continue. Several things are likely going on here. Many employers like to find a way to get rid of chronically ill employees. Legally they cannot, so they find other ways. This is most likey one cause for the action against what happened to deb. I know first hand what it is like. I worked for a nonfor profit agency for 16 years and the last ten i was severely bullied beyond belief. i was verbally abused and denegrated on a regular basis, by a narcissitic boss. I was tormented and stalked, called ant my home, and called names and in front of coworkers and members. I was treated like an animal!!!! In 1997 i had a brain tumor and i fought hard to return to work to support my family, and what i got for it was the same as Deb, i was abused, bullied and tormented until in January of 2011 i went out sick with severe ptsd and when my doctor asked for reasonble accomodations for me to return i was terminated immediately. It is horrific and the impact is severe on the employee and their family. This school districr should be sued and in a big way. I hope Deb finds justice.

  7. It’s coinsidence.

    Today, this morning I was fired after reporting severe bullying by two middle aged women in a corporate healthcare setting. Its been a 3 month process with the AVP of HR telling me “you will not get fired, you have my word”. Well, guess what AVP? Your wrong.
    It was a horrible, toxic workplace with daily abusive language, isolation, put downs, you name it and I have suffered physically and mentally over it. I did the right thing and set up boundries for myself and called them out on it.. Of course the legal department had their input and the papers I have to sign cover all the bases.

    Today, I am going to give my two children a big hug, tell them that it is going to be ok and that we will make it. This is even scarier being a single parent.

    Today, I am going to be nice to myself, thank the Lord above for everything and take a nice long walk. Oh yeah, cry too. I need to, I don’t want to but I need to.

    Monday, I am going to look for a job.

  8. This was a great post. Very informative and interesting. As someone who has been bullied at work and knows other who have been bullied at work it is nice to see that it is an issue that is starting to come out of the closet, so to speak. The sick thing is, in my experience the bullies do not even realize they are being bullies and even the bosses are scared to say something to them.
    Once again, great article.

  9. 1) Wow, wow, wow. Am just reading everyone’s posts about their experiences with bully higher-ups. You all have a lot of backbone to write like that, and I hope you all wind up in much better situations. Mel, BTW, do you know about the Mass. Commission Against Discrimination? They might be able to help if you filed a complaint, and there’s no charge.
    2) Prof. Yamada, thanks very much for letting us all know how to lend Deb Caldieri a hand.* I, too, was deeply disappointed that the person who questioned South Hadley High’s “sin of omission” became the fall guy. I know quite a few teens out that way, since my husband’s from that area, and I shudder to think that the folks in charge of that school still haven’t figured out the right course of action. Dismissing Ms. Caldieri after her years of service — and knowing full well how much she needed to keep her health insurance, given the MS — was deplorable. It’s even worse to imagine that it was a reprisal for her acknowledging the Phoebe Prince whitewash project. I’ll pray for her, and send a check.
    *Via Ray Hershel of, ”Friends of Deb Caldieri have set up a fund to help her with medical and living expenses. Donations can be made to the Deb Caldieri Benefit Fund in care of People’s Bank at 1240 Sumner Avenue, Springfield, Mass. 01108. You can also donate at any People’s Bank.”

  10. I would like to thank those individuals that wrote in with their support, those that perhaps sent a much appreciated check early on, and, of course, Professor Yamada, and Greg Sorozan, who originally invited me to speak on behalf of the “Anti-Bulling” Healthy Workplace Bill.
    I do hope that there is someone still out there who will stumble upon my email and know in their heart and soul how much gratitude I felt to all of just reading your comments today, November 27, 2013. You see, Phoebe would have turned nineteen on the twenty-fourth. She and my youngest son shared a birthday. Four years ago is when the sparkle left my little “Vita’s” (her Latin name) because of a tragic event that the law kept hidden…
    In addition to losing my :”VIta,” I’ve lost my career, income, independence, the use of my legs; my seizures can’t seem to be controlled due to the constant stress, my children (also a single mom) are traumatized; I need physical, occupational, and psychological therapy, and the only money I get from the state is 326.00 in food stamps per/month. So, I choose the days I will eat something..

    The final straw is that I am still waiting for a hearing for my “Accidental Disability,” which now has been pushed to the end of February.

    p.s. That account was closed at Peoples. Thank you again for your kindhearted donations.

    • Deb, it is especially sad and significant that you are writing on this day before Thanksgiving. It would be inappropriate for me to offer cheap homilies, but we will be in touch. Thank you for writing, though I dearly wish the news was better.

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