Deb Caldieri, supporter of school bullying victim Phoebe Prince, faces severe challenges today

Deb Caldieri is the former South Hadley, Massachusetts teacher who dared to criticize her school’s response to the bullying behaviors that preceded the 2010 suicide of teenager Phoebe Prince, and then bravely testified before the Massachusetts legislative committee in support of the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill. Sadly, outrageously, today she appears to be paying a heavy price for doing the right thing. Jobless and suffering from multiple sclerosis, she is struggling, as her update — posted to this blog last week and reprinted below — clearly indicates.

If you’re unfamiliar with the full story, read on.

Events of 2011

In 2011, Deb’s situation was championed by Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen, who first broke the story of how Caldieri was being bullied by South Hadley school administrators, and then wrote a follow-up piece:

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 went on to describe the supposed efforts that Sayer made to contact Caldieri to discuss her situation. The full column explains how this played out, as Cullen did an excellent job of interviewing Sayer in an effort to get to the heart of the matter.

Deb received her final termination notice from the South Hadley school system in 2011, just weeks after testifying in support of the Healthy Workplace Bill before a Massachusetts legislative committee. 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 — struck me as being much too close to be a coincidence.

Recent update

I hadn’t heard any news about how Deb was doing until the day before Thanksgiving, when she left a comment on this blog:

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.

As you can see, she’s going through a very rough stretch right now. I’ve reached out to Deb and offered to help pass the hat on her behalf. If she’s okay with that, then I’ll provide details on this blog. She certainly deserves our support.

5 responses

  1. Dear Deb,

    I m so sorry for what has happened (still happening) in your life. You tried to stand up for justice and then you basically were bullied by your peers.

    I ran into a woman at a Christian book store who was going to commit suicide and had everything planned out because she lost her 7-year job due to bullying. She could not afford housing and was extremely depressed. During her 7 years of work, she was an interpreter at the same hospital I worked at (I was also bullied out). She said she had high recommendations from physicians and was also sent to seminars – everyone liked her. She was saved by a neighbor who stopped over to talk and the neighbor told her she could get her into low-income housing. She said they asked God for help and she was in a new place the next day.

    I cannot comprehend how bullies of children or adults get away with this. It is an unacceptable behavior. Bullying is harassment. I just don’t understand why some people don’t see through this and the scars it leaves. I lost my job of 24 years and all of my symptoms of depression, ADHD, anxiety, and migraines were heightened. I have lost confidence and am afraid to work. I also developed post-traumatic stress disorder. All of my medications had to be increased. I’ve told my story before on this site. I spoke with Senators, Congressmen, Representatives, and even sent a letter to President Obama. I had T-shirts made.

    I feel there is no difference between bullying a child or adult. When a child starts as a bully they continue into adulthood – it needs to be nipped in the bud. Bullies enjoy what they do. They end up keeping their job positions and the good workers who are honest and nice lose theirs. I cannot believe what this world is coming to. You would think a suicide would wake up the Nation or even the thought of suicide, added stressors, which may never leave a person. It is a horrible, unbelievable criminal offense (in my eyes). It changes those involved and is hard to get out of. The bullied person needs more medical care without insurance coverage. If they quit, there is nothing. Then to get a different job is extremely difficult. You lose the confidence you once had. You used to believe in people and it takes a while to actually realize you are being bullied in adults. Children are probably not as subtle.

    This law MUST be passed in the entire country to rid the school systems/workforce of this awful mind game. Just by doing this, our Country would be better. You have no recourse. Other people do not understand and think you are exaggerating your claims. Someone told me it is like being in a concentration camp because you do not know what the next day will bring. You are always anxious and wondering.

    I am proud of you for standing up. More people need to stand up, but there seems to be too many people who really do not care – even with a suicide, suicide attempt, or suicide thought. So many other ailments are also added that others do not understand. it is so frustrating to try to stick up for this very important cause and hardly get anywhere – or no one is interested, unless it happens to them or someone they know.

    Bullying is making physicians richer because those who are bullied need to see one and then get medication. It is a no win situation, plus you lose excellent workers/students.

    The Bible says we should uplift one another. I can see why you feel the way you do. I applaud you for your over-the-top efforts for justice and pray you and your family will heal.

    I can understand why more parents are homeschooling their children. It is also hard to find a job for those displace because you take on a distrust towards the workplace and worry that bullying could happen again.

    Best of luck to you and I know that God will provide. I have even put in prayer requests at church for the bullies.

  2. Isn’t there some legal remedy for what you depict as retaliation by the school system? Isn’t there protection for a person living with a disability in terms of employment? If, indeed, as your article suggests she was bullied/mobbed/harassed by her employer, there must be some cause of action. Just saying.

  3. Dear GEM,

    It takes one person at a time to change the world. Thank you for being another “one” person to stand up and say “No” to bullying. I, too, am saddened by what you have had to endure at the mercy of the taunts and resulting from the actions of bullies.

    Thank you for your post. I send you only positive energy, health and happiness.


  4. Dear Deb

    My heart goes out to you. I hope that legislation will be introduced to stop this type of harassment from continuing. I have been out of work for a year now and still cannot find the courage needed to return to a job that I have been doing for over 25 years.

    All the best

  5. Dear Jerry,

    I was bullied at work and have disabilities (never took disability) or really talked about them much. I even told my supervisor (one of the bullies) about my one disability. Because of my disabilities, I am considered “protected class” (which I did not know). The five people who quit before me due to the same bullying had no recourse because bullying is too hard to prove (even though I feel it is the same as harassment); it is just more subtle and covered up. I did get a lawyer and filed with the EEOC/ERD. This is still ongoing and extremely stressful for me (mostly done behind closed doors). It is hard to prove because upper management stick to the same lies. The only good thing I did was transfer my e-mails from work to my home.

    I hung on for 3 years and they finally called my termination 3 terms – terminated/separated/other. They could not decide he because I would not go along with accommodations they made up for me, which were impossible and I never asked for. They said you have to do this or we will discharge you. I had no input. I never said I was quitting. I even said I was looking forward to going back to work (I had had broken my wrist before this and was off a while). This was not my disability, but I did receive short-term disability during that time from the company (it was a benefit – half of my pay). I worked 24 years there.

    The company I worked for made me attend 2 unemployment trials with their lawyer present. They do not want to pay unemployment because of cost. I ended up winning the unemployment case. The judge’s decision “quitting for good reason” (even though I did not quit).

    There is so much work to this the fact. I am still awaiting for an answer from the EEOC/ERC Investigator. I dropped my lawyer (could not afford). This went on so long that it became was 2 separate cases. I believe if the Investigator agrees with me, mediation with my former employer ties place with their lawyer present. It is hard to represent yourself, when you do not understand the entire ins and outs.

    I am sorry to repeat my story over and over, but it needs to be told. I am hoping the right person who can make a change will see all of our stories.

    I am receiving unemployment and have to look for 4 jobs per week (there is nothing that fits me). I am even working through Job Service Disability Service (again, I do not receive disability). I am thinking about trying to get disability. Due to all of this surprising bullying/harassment, I also acquired PTSD (according to my counselor). My counselor said it is like a prisoner in a prison camp, not knowing what the next day will bring. It is like time goes by and nothing gets completed. I get very anxious and jumpy.

    I have no insurance – have to pay cash for everything (pills/psychiatrist/counselor). I am unable to take care of myself or my husband (normal yearly exams). We have no dental insurance.

    Another result of all of this “crap” is making the ex-employee lose their self-esteem, no proper medical care, money problems, and always walking on eggshells, while the bullies stay employed. If you have disabilities they become exacerbated. I lost 16 pounds. Do not enjoy cooking. Constantly trying to save money. I have a hard time doing anything. Constantly depressed and anxious. I am “jumpy”, and can have a tendency to snap at my husband. No me at all.

    I have come across (not kidding) at least 50 people where I worked (a large company) who were bullied out of their jobs – they quit. My counselor said this is a corporate move to save money, but the nastiest way of doing it. A kinder way would be a layoff or job transfer. They save money by employees quitting , no unemployment is paid, they hire someone new, and much less pay. This way they get rid of the older workers who have built up everything to the max – vacation and other benefits. I had even signed up for my new benefits a week before I was terminated. My supervisor also lied to my ex-co-workers and said, “I quit”. No one will talk to me (probably out of fear and mobbing technique).

    I have worn myself out trying to correct this bullying behavior being an advocate to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill into Law (Wisconsin). No one seems to want to address this. It would be so easy to pass the Healthy Workplace Bill into law and make America a “nicer” place to work. The bullies would lose their jobs.

    Many European Countries passed the this law in the 1990s. I just have no answer why this law cannot be passed in the “entire” United States? It is so sad that human beings are allowed to treat other human beings this way. I wonder what God thinks of this? I am relying on God to give me strength and intervene to make this problem right. We were put on Earth to uplift others. No one wants to live each day hearing negative comments – this is actually sinful. I am always trying to help others and make them feel good about themselves. I want others to be happy. There is no reason for this. President Obama will not even address this problem – I wrote to him. This is “BIG” problem that just keeps rolling along like a snowball and gives the bullies/harassers more momentum.

    Also, to DEB – Thank you for your kind encouraging words. There are too many bad things happening in the World. This bullying/harassment problem must be addressed now (children and adults). Legislators need to take this seriously. If it were happening to them or a close friend or family member, it would put some fire under their butts!

    LOUISE: You sound like you endured a similar experience to me. I totally understand being scared to go back to what you were doing. I even asked for a job transfer within the company. The funny thing is that after the unemployment hearing, I was deemed rehireable at the company I worked at!

    Just ending this problem would make individuals lives easier, and perhaps teach others how God wants us to. It would be a beginning in taking care of other problems out there. It can only be “Good” The problem is still happening and growing, but too many people are greedy and actually enjoying treating others negatively for a feeling of power, or they themselves are extremely insecure.
    Another thing I keep reminding myself is that my story never changes about what happened at work.

    Also, Jerry: I did file for retaliation. You would not believe the effort/time this all takes.
    P.S. Picture of my dad wearing “Pass Workplace Bully Bill into Workplace Billy LAW!!!!

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