Whistleblower sues Palm Beach County School District for handling of principal’s Holocaust remarks

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A retired human resources investigator who says he faced retaliation over pushing for a comprehensive investigation of a principal’s controversial Holocaust remarks is now suing the district over the incident.

Robert Pinkos, who previously worked as an investigator in the school district’s Human Resources department, seeks over $30,000 in damages from the school district under the Florida Public Whistle-Blowers Act, according to the lawsuit. He says the school district retaliated against him after he reported school officials for covering up their lack of punishment of the principal, who told a parent via email that he couldn’t say the Holocaust was a historical fact.

Because the district opened an investigation into Pinkos, the retired investigator has been unable to work as a contractor, the lawsuit says.

Pinkos first filed a whistleblower complaint with the school district’s Inspector General’s office, which investigates allegations of fraud and employee abuse. The office makes recommendations to the School Board.

The controversy stems back to 2018, when former Spanish River High School Principal William Latson emailed a parent, who was seeking information about Spanish River’s Holocaust curriculum. Latson wrote that he had to remain “politically neutral” — sensitive not only to advocates of Holocaust education but to those who deny the annihilation of 6 million Jews during World War II.

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Latson wrote to the parent, whose name is redacted from the emails released by the district.

Latson’s attorney said the district was punishing Latson for a “poorly worded email” and said there were multiple levels of culpability, including school district staff who knew about the emails for 16 months before deciding to discipline him.

Politicians from across the state were calling for Latson’s termination or resignation, as did the Anti-Defamation League, a national civil rights group with an office in Boca Raton.

Pinkos claims district officials tried to cover up their lack of punishment of Latson — after the community uproar, school officials wanted Pinkos to find other reasons to fire Latson that wouldn’t reveal the district’s inaction.

Pinkos refused to pursue the case, based in part on what he considered trumped-up charges that had nothing to do with the original anti-Semitism allegations against Latson. That’s when he says the retribution began, including his office location being changed from West Palm Beach to Boca Raton.

Pinkos, a former teacher and school district employee recruiter, says a supervisor told him to limit the scope of his investigation to whether Latson had filled out the right forms for his July vacation and whether Latson stayed in communication with his supervisors when he was gone.

Pinkos, on the other hand, wanted an investigation to look at what he saw as the key issue: the principal’s remarks about the Holocaust and whether he should face punishment for his comments.

Pinkos’s boss, Vicki Evans-Pare, told him Latson would be able to remain a principal, just not at Spanish River, according to the complaint.

“Mr. Pinkos voiced that Dr. Latson should not be a principal anywhere for essentially being a Holocaust denier,” according to the complaint. “Mr. Pinkos expressed his concern that it appeared rather disingenuous that district administrators, who knew about Dr. Latson’s comments for over a year and did not report the misconduct to HR, now were apparently filled with righteous indignation.”

Pinkos describes how he endured several tumultuous interactions, including how he faced the threat of being fired before his scheduled retirement in September 2020. He eventually retained a lawyer. In response, the District retained outside counsel to “investigate” Pinkos, the complaint says.

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The complaint labels Evans-Pare’s efforts as a “smear campaign” against Pinkos that follows him in his professional capacity, preventing him from working as a consultant. He’s demanding trial by jury.

In a 5-2 vote, the School Board accepted the recommendation of former Superintendent Donald Fennoy, who said Latson had committed ethical misconduct by being unreachable when “all hell broke loose” after his emailed comments to a Spanish River parent became public.

The school district declined to comment on the lawsuit, but stated some of its claims were false.

“While the District will not discuss the specifics of pending litigation, we look forward to correcting misstatements that are presented in this lawsuit in court,” the statement said.

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