Mike Zoffuto, former Lake Highlands High School football coach, and wife Marcia, a former assistant band director for Lake Highlands Junior High, have filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Richardson Independent School District.
In their suit, the Zoffutos claim that some RISD employees conspired to drive them out of the district, that intentional emotional distress was inflicted on the couple and that RISD breached its resignation agreement with Mike Zoffuto. The suit also states that individual defendants in the case have made “false, defamatory, slanderous and libelous statements” about Mike Zoffuto to defame him and interfere with his employment contract with RISD.
The Zoffutos are being represented by Timothy W. Sorenson.
At press time, RISD was working on obtaining a lawyer, says Superintendent Vernon Johnson.
“The district thinks the lawsuit has a weak foundation,” Johnson says. “It’s a waste of the taxpayers money for us to defend ourselves, but we intend to defend ourselves vigorously.”
In addition to RISD, individual defendants named in the suit are Johnson; Assistant Superintendent Betty Stewart Smith; internal auditor Anthony R. Harkleroad; Lake Highlands coaches William “Buzz” Andrews, David P. Wood and Ronald J. Higgins; the high school band director Marion S. West; Billie J. Nero, Marcia Zoffuto’s former supervisor at Lake Highlands Junior High; and Westwood Junior High Principal Selma G. Russell.
Mike Zoffuto resigned last May from RISD after eight years as Lake Highlands High School’s head football coach and athletic director. He has remained unemployed since that time. Prior to his resignation, the district conducted an internal investigation into allegations that Mike Zoffuto had mishandled some funds, falsified some district records, and conducted personal for-profit business during school hours.
In the suit, Mike Zoffuto claims the allegations are false and have damaged his reputation.
When Mike Zoffuto resigned, he and RISD agreed to keep the circumstances confidential. Mike Zoffuto was also given compensatory pay through Aug. 15 and allowed to continue his family’s insurance.
In the suit, Mike Zoffuto claims RISD broke the confidentiality agreement, forced him to resign and failed to pay him all the money he was due.
Marcia Zoffuto, who now works for the Garland school district, also claims in the suit that she was forced out of her employment with RISD. Marcia Zoffuto transferred to Westwood from Lake Highlands Junior High after disputes with Nero, the suit says. At the beginning of her employment, she received a satisfactory performance evaluation, the suit says, but was later advised in writing by Principle Russell that her probationary teaching contract with RISD would not be renewed.
Marcia Zoffuto was undergoing cancer therapy while working for RISD. The suit accuses Nero of interfering with Marcia Zoffuto’s treatment, verbally abusing her, and humiliating her daughter, who attended Lake Highlands Junior High.
The suit asks for damages of $1 million to $100 million each for Marcia and Mike Zoffuto plus punitive damages and attorney fees.
Sorenson says he expects to go to trial in about 18 months.