74ºF

Sexual harassment lawsuit moving forward regarding Broward County principal

Attorney says Riverland Elementary educator has history of similar complaints

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A lawsuit against Broward County Public Schools is set to move forward over allegations of sexual harassment involving a school principal.

The lawsuit alleges the district did not take action to protect an employee from Oslay Gil, the principal of Riverland Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, despite his disciplinary history for similar complaints. 

Attorney Melissa Mihok spoke to Local 10 News about representing Cherellda Branch-McKenzie, a former guidance counselor at Riverland who filed the lawsuit. In the complaint, Branch-McKenzie said, Gil would harass her daily.

The suit alleges he touched her on "multiple occasions on her buttocks," saying, "Oh, I'm sorry, but it felt good!" It further alleges he said, "Let me get that right there," referring to a sex act, and, "Let me kiss you right there on your neck." When she told him to stop, Gil threatened to humble her, saying, in his country, "women bow down," she said. 

"Mr. Gil told her that if he was contacted by other principals for a reference for her that he would provide a negative reference and that she was not going to be able to obtain a position as an assistant principal," Mihok said.

The school board chose not to discipline Gil, citing insufficient evidence. Eventually, Branch-McKenzie was able to transfer out of Riverland. 

"Here we have a consistent pattern of bad behavior," Mihok said. "Even while he was at the previous school, there wasn't just one allegation of inappropriate behavior. There were multiple allegations."

The district had already disciplined Gil for similar complaints at his two previous schools dating to at least 2008. He served a five-day suspension in 2010, and the district removed him as principal of Sunrise Middle School. Nearly two dozen women reported sexual harassment. In a school board investigation, one teacher stated Gil "ran his finger down her back," saying, "This is how I met my wife."

He allegedly told that teacher, who is Jamaican, that he liked all kinds of cake, "especially Jamaican chocolate."

One former teacher agreed to speak with Local 10 News about her experience with Gil but asked that she be kept anonymous.

"Kind of run his hand down my back or horizontally along my bra strap. He made my skin crawl," she told Local 10 News investigative reporter Amy Viteri.

She said she quit teaching after what she experienced, including one occasion on which she said Gil cornered her in a closed room and propositioned her. 

"He told me that I had planning for another 30 minutes, and we had time," she said.

She said she often hid under her desk and turned off her classroom lights when working alone so he wouldn't know she was there. She sought to avoid interactions with Gil who she said would intimidate her when she didn't respond favorably to his advances. On one occasion, he became upset when she did not greet him in the hallway, she said. 

"He walked over to me, and he said, 'Don't forget who does your evaluations,'" she said. 

Oslay Gil has worked at several Broward County schools in recent years. He now serves as the principal of Riverland Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale.

In 2008 at Margate Middle School, staff complained about Gil, then an assistant principal, pushing against them and "simulating sex with a humping motion." A secretary reported Gil slapped her daughter on the buttocks. When questioned about all of these allegations, Gil denied any wrongdoing.

After his suspension in 2010, the district moved him to the principal position at Riverland in 2011.

Viteri asked Gil in person about the lawsuit and complaints. 

"We're not going to make any comments," he said.

When Viteri asked if any of the allegations were true, Gil said he had no comment. 

The former teacher who spoke with Local 10 News said too many women have a similar story, and she was not surprised to see the current lawsuit moving forward. 

"Not shocked at all. I'm disappointed," she said. "I believe these women, and it's sad that it's gone to this point." 

Nadine Drew, a spokeswoman for Broward County Public Schools, emailed the following statement: 

"Broward County Public Schools is committed to providing working and learning environments that are free of harassment.  Any allegation or complaint concerning harassment is taken seriously and investigated. Immediately upon receiving the complaint being referenced, the district's Equal Educational Opportunities Department opened an investigation on Sept. 18, 2012. The findings of the investigation were reviewed by the Professional Standards Committee on June 5, 2013, which determined there was not enough evidence to support the allegations. Due to ongoing litigation, the district is unable to provide additional details or comments."

Parents who spoke to Local 10 News said they did not believe the allegations against Gil and expressed confidence in him as a professional.

Mihok said she expects the case to be set for a jury trial in the coming months.


About the Author: