MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee Public Schools administrator has made claims of discrimination and bullying in the Office of Academics, and the state's Equal Rights Division has found evidence to move the case to a hearing. It's the third such case the I-Team has found in that office.
Jose Garcia Joven is still a Math Curriculum Specialist in the Office of Academics at MPS, a position he's held since 2018 after he taught math in the district for 11 years.
One year after he started in that position, he filed a complaint with the ERD saying he was treated differently than others, including one instance where his supervisor, "...criticized [Garcia-Joven's] accent, asked how he defended a dissertation with an accent, and said he needed to practice presenting like he did for his dissertation and to excuse himself to audiences by saying he is working on his accent," according to the state's findings regarding his case.
The complaint continued to say, Garcia Joven, "... apologized for his accent at his next presentation," and that "In the feedback to this presentation, an attendee noted, …'Why does he feel the need to apologize for his accent?... What does this have to do with Math?’”
The ERD determined there was evidence he was treated differently by his supervisor and coworker. He declined an interview with us, but told us in an email it's been a painful experience.
His attorney, Ben Hitchcock Cross, did agree to sit down for an on-camera interview.
"He has no remedy, he cannot go to management and say knock it off and do something about it, because management is part of the problem," Cross said.
Garcia Joven is still employed at the district while his case is pending a hearing.
"He doesn't have any choice but to go to work each day, go to work for the students and suffer what he must from MPS," Cross said.
Cross also represents Deb Kuether, another MPS administrator who the state found evidence of discrimination and retaliation in the Office of Academics.
She was the K-12 Manager of Literacy and was reassigned to an unnamed position at Washington High School after she spoke against Jeremiah Holiday, the former Chief Academic Officer.
The I-Team also learned another administrator, Deborah Bowling, the Fine Arts Manager at MPS, also filed a complaint with the ERD regarding Holiday, after she was reassigned to a position with a school program at the Milwaukee County Jail.
Bowling's attorney said they are close to an agreement with MPS, which would need board approval.
We are aware of five additional ERD cases that have ended in private settlements.
The I-Team has requested all settlement information the district has paid to employees regarding these complaints. We have yet to receive those records.
"There is a systemic problem here and they're a systemic refusal to change," Cross said.
We reached out to MPS for comment several times on these cases, and to ask if there is a pattern. The district declined our requests. We also asked school board President Bob Peterson, and he also said he would not speak about this matter.
The I-Team reached out to the City Attorney's office as well, who represents the district in these matters. They did not get back to us.
In 2020 they did respond to Garcia Joven's complaint in a letter asking the ERD to drop the case. They claimed his complaint had no merit, and that the district took "clear responsive action," to address some of those concerns. One of those actions was to send his supervisor for counseling with Holiday.
The city attorney wrote that response in February 2020.
In January 2020, the city attorney's office said in a response to Bowling's complaint, “It was a near universal sentiment that the work group under Dr. Holiday is a toxic and hostile work environment... The employees under Dr. Holiday operate in fear, intimidation, and under a watchful eye that scrutinizes every move, where he publicly ridicules for every blunder, real or fabricated.”
Holiday still works in the district, according to the MPS website, but is no longer the chief in the Office of Academics.
The two employees named in Garcia Joven's complaint are also still employed at the district, also according to its website.
Garcia Joven's case as well as Kuether's are awaiting a hearing with an administrative judge.