Kolb resigns at Bridge Street Middle School

WHEELING — The attorney for teachers suing former Bridge Street Middle School Principal Joseph Kolb for sexual harassment said they don’t know yet how they will proceed following Kolb’s resignation from the job Friday.

At a special meeting of the Ohio County Board of Education Friday, members accepted Kolb’s resignation effective immediately. Board President Zach Abraham and Assistant Superintendent Rick Jones said the school district had no further comment other than to say “he has resigned.”

“At this juncture, I don’t know if this will have any bearing on case,” said attorney Mark Gaydos of Kingwood. “I don’t know the story for the resignation or termination. I don’t know if it was related to the case, or there was an invite to step down.”

Gaydos said he soon will be setting a date for depositions in the case.

Kolb is scheduled to go to trial in federal court next year on a civil suit brought by three teachers who worked with him at Bridge Street – Lindsay Ammirante, Autumn Troullos and Rachel Miller. It was filed Dec. 21 in Ohio County Circuit Court, but was moved to federal court in early February at the request of the defendants.

In addition to Kolb, also named as defendants in the case are the Ohio County Board of Education, Superintendent Kim Miller and Jones for allegedly failing to properly investigate the teachers’ accusations and also for failing to protect them from alleged retaliation.

The first accusation is listed as happening Oct. 27, 2017, when Kolb allegedly attempted to open a bathroom door while teacher Rachel Miller was using the restroom.

The lawsuit states that after Miller exited the restroom, Kolb “informed her in a joking sarcastic manner that, ‘Oops. I thought it was Autumn (Troullos). Were you scared?'”

The incident was reported by Miller to the Ohio County Board of Education, but no official investigation was done, no official paperwork was offered to Miller and no action was taken against Kolb, according to the complaint.

Kolb’s harassment of Troullos was “more persistent and severe,” and she was the focus of a number of suspect stares and lewd, profane comments, the lawsuit states.

She reported the incidents, but “representatives of the Ohio County Board of Education failed to do a formal investigation,” the lawsuit alleges. And after filing complaints with the board, Troullos “was forced to move grades and teach a different grade over her objection,” the lawsuit states.

In the days following her reports to the board, Kolb allegedly started to repeatedly come into Troullos classroom throughout the day. He said nothing during the visits, only to ask her if “Ammirante ever did any work,” according to the lawsuit.

Troullos was allegedly told by the board of education that Kolb had every right to sit in on her classes, according to the lawsuit. She also was told she could transfer to Triadelphia Middle School to get away from Kolb, according to the lawsuit.

Ammirante is a relative of Kolb’s ex-wife, the lawsuit states. After his separation and divorce, Kolb allegedly “commenced a campaign to harass and intimidate Ammirante,” both on and off school property.

Ammirante told the board about the alleged intimation, and was informed they could do nothing about incidents taking place outside of school activities. They also told her she shouldn’t fear retaliation from Kolb for coming forward.

However, the following day, Kolb allegedly confronted Ammirante at a Little League baseball game, according to the lawsuit.

“Don’t worry. You’re going to get yours,” the lawsuit claims Kolb told Ammirante as he coached along the first base line. “It’s coming. You want to go to the board office, you’ll get yours. Go file that paperwork. You’ll all get yours. It’s coming to all of you.”

Last May, Ammirante filed a criminal complaint with the Wheeling Police Department regarding Kolb’s alleged harassment, and presented the police report to the board of education office. Based on the police report, the board had Kolb escorted from Bridge Street Middle School by a police officer, with Jones witnessing the removal, according to the lawsuit.

Kolb was off the job for the final five weeks of the 2017-18 school year based on some of the allegations made by the teachers, but he was returned to the position at the start of the current school year after district officials allegedly told Ammirante and Miller their complaints were found “not to meet the criteria and definition of harassment, sexual harassment, retaliation or hostile work environment.”

According to the lawsuit, Troullos was forced to take a leave of absence this year because of the alleged harassment, and Ammirante has since transferred to another school.

The teachers are seeking a jury trial for compensatory damages for psychological and emotional distress; punitive damages; a requirement that the Ohio County Board of Education “take effective steps to prevent sex-based discrimination and harassment;” and costs and fees.

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