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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Big Brouhaha in the Cosmetology Department

PRICE, Utah (CN) - A Utah mayor threatened university professors for giving his daughter a "crappy" project and said he would "take them down" and "gut this place out," four women claim in court.

The professors, however, did not sue the mayor for his alleged "assault on professors while they were at work."

They sued Utah State University Eastern, its Chancellor Joe Peterson, the Carbon County Attorney's Office and Deputy County Attorney John Schindler, in Carbon County Court.

The college is in Price, where Joe Piccolo is the mayor. His daughter, Elizabeth Piccolo, enrolled in the college's cosmetology program in 2013.

The professors say Elizabeth Piccolo was suspended for poor grades in 2014 and allowed to continue courses under accommodations that she complete tests at the university's testing center.

Plaintiffs Debbie Prichard and Linda Davis are associate professors in the cosmetology department; plaintiffs Lisa Critchlow and Marlayne Gordon are adjunct cosmetology instructors there.

In their Jan. 25 lawsuit, they say that Elizabeth Piccolo "abused the accommodations" by, for instance, "taking tests home that she was supposed to complete under supervision in the university testing center."

In 2015, Piccolo submitted a semester-long salon budgeting project to Critchlow, who says she was "concerned" that Mayor Piccolo had done "a lot of the work" on it, "because it appeared that the project was patterned on the Price city budget."

Critchlow says gave it a "conditional B grade," which made Ms. Piccolo "unhappy." So Piccolo called her father and asked him to come talk to Critchlow, and proceeded to tell "someone" that "My dad will get rid of these teachers," the complaint states.

Mayor Piccolo visited Critchlow at her office the same day, with plaintiff Gordon present, and "immediately slammed a portfolio containing Ms. Piccolo's project down on professor Critchlow's desk, demanding to know why Ms. Piccolo got a B on the project," the complaint states.

When Critchlow said that his daughter had refused to answer questions about the project, "Piccolo launched into a verbal tirade, screaming that 'they' had worked on this project for three solid weeks," the plaintiffs say.

Piccolo then "jumped from his chair, gritted his teeth and threatened professor Critchlow that he was going to 'gut this place out,' 'bring the place down,' and sue the cosmetology professors, because he was sick of the way his daughter was being treated," according to the complaint.

Critchlow says she "was scared that Mr. Piccolo was about to punch her in the face" and "had never before felt so threatened."

Piccolo "kept screaming about the department and the university," and "threatened that he would get the university to reimburse him for his daughter's education, he would call USU President Stan Albrecht to shut down the cosmetology department, and that professor Critchlow had given a 'crappy' project to his daughter," the complaint states.

The professors say Piccolo was "so enraged it appeared that he would lose physical control at any moment," and blocked an exit to the office for 20 to 30 minutes.

Gordon says she eventually bolted from the office, and "shaking and crying," told co-plaintiffs Prichard and Davis that she "was scared" for Critchlow, who was cornered in the office and needed help.

Gordon says she hid in Prichard's coat closet until she could calm down and compose herself. Prichard then tried to calm down Piccolo, "to no avail."

Piccolo "continued to rage" at Critchlow and Prichard and said "that he would take them down and would not stop until he did," according to the complaint, which adds that he continued to swear and yell at the two professors and "slammed his hand, fist, and/or the portfolio down on the desk for another 10 minutes."

The tirade "terrified" an entire class of female students, who were huddled in a corner of a lab outside of the office, the professors say. A university police officer arrived and threatened to arrest Piccolo, but did not immediately cite him.

A few days later, defendant County Attorney Schindler "met with the professors at his office to discuss potential charges against Mr. Piccolo," the complaint states.

It continues: "He told them that 1) he was personal friends with Mr. Piccolo; 2) if Mr. Piccolo's name had been blacked out, the case against him would have been 'fast-tracked' and would have already been filed; 3) the case could languish for months because Mr. Piccolo was the mayor; and 4) if an average person was the perpetrator, that individual would have likely been arrested and put in jail."

Nonetheless, the professors say, Schindler told them "that he would only charge Mr. Piccolo with an infraction."

Piccolo eventually received a citation for disorderly conduct and one-year plea in abeyance in a plea deal, which Justice Court Judge Steven Stream rejected, the professors say. But the case was dismissed because the county attorney's office did not file charges.

Chancellor Peterson did not meet with the professors until more than a month after the attack, when he "stopped by" the cosmetology department. Peterson "indicated" that did not read the police reports, and "would not 'get in the middle of it' because he was working on a $4 million project with Price City and doing anything against Mr. Piccolo would endanger the project," according to the complaint.

Peterson also told Critchlow and Prichard not to use university letterhead when communicating with anyone about the attack, the professors say. Chancellor Peterson also "told a community member that he would not involve himself to protect the professors because he often dines with Mr. Piccolo and Mr. Piccolo's wife," the complaint states.

The professors say they suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and needed counseling after the attack.

Price, pop, 8,800, is a former mining town in central Utah.

USU Eastern public relations and marketing director Tim Vitale told Courthouse News that the college "adamantly" denies the allegations, and declined further comment.

Piccolo did not immediately return requests for comment.

Piccolo told The Salt Lake Tribune Piccolo in 2015 that he lost his temper and was embarrassed by it, but said the allegations were exaggerated.

The professors took the action "as a last resort," their attorney Lauren Scholnick said, "after attempting to work for over a year with both their employer and local law enforcement to ensure their protection and that of all USU-E students, staff and faculty after Mr. Piccolo's attack."

"Had USU-E and the prosecutor carried out their duties as public servants, our clients would not have been compelled to take this action," Scholnick added. "Their pleas for both the chancellor and Mr. Schindler to do their duty fell on deaf ears."

Each professor seeks $100,000 in damages for breach of contract and civil rights violations.

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