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Worker Says School Fired Her for Exposing ‘Sexting’

PHOENIX (CN) - An office worker claims Buckeye Union High School fired her for reporting that an assistant principal was "sexting" an underage student. The administrative assistant says she confiscated a cell phone from the student, who was texting during school, which is forbidden, and "discovered sexually explicit text messages and photos between the student and [the assistant principal]."

In her federal complaint, Jennifer Mello, formerly administrative assistant for Buckeye High School assistant principals Matthew Conover and Tawn Argeris, says she "observed what she believed to be inappropriate behavior between Conover and an under-aged student" on multiple occasions.

Mello says she reported the behavior to Principal Mary Ann Sphar in January 2009, and five days later Conover gave her an unexpected, negative job performance review. She says Conover warned her to "keep things to herself" and to "follow the chain of command," according to the complaint.

Mello says that before the cell phone incidents, she received positive job performance reviews and the Town of Buckeye's "Outstanding Education Support Staff of the Year Award" for 2009.

On Feb. 5, 2009, Mello says, she saw the student she had suspected of having an inappropriate relationship with Conover text messaging during school, and confiscated her cell phone. Cell phone use is prohibited during school hours by the district's code of conduct.

Mello says she "discovered sexually explicit text messages and photos between the student and Conover" on the phone. Mello says she turned the phone over to Sphar, who notified police.

Conover was arrested on two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and taken into police custody later that day, according to the complaint.

When Mello received her annual review on May 11, she says Argeris told her she would be fired "as a result of the plaintiff's protected speech."

Mello is seeking a finding that Buckeye Union High School District violated her First Amendment rights after she was fired for reporting and exposing "illegal conduct by Conover." She is represented by Christopher J. Piekarski and Nathan J. Brelsford.

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