Zarb secretary objects to removal after 19 years
Former Senior Executive Secretary of the Accounting, Taxation and Legal Studies in Business Department Joann Tsapelas was fired on Wednesday, May 3, after 19 years of working at Hofstra and 12 years working in the position having served seven chairs. Tsapelas said she fell victim to alleged bullying tactics within the administration of the Frank G. Zarb School of Business, attributing her removal to the efforts of the current department chair, Dr. Jacqueline A. Burke, who Tsapelas said filed six complaints against the secretary within a year. These complaints were the first and only complaints filed against Tsapelas throughout her 19 years working at Hofstra.
According to the official letter issued by Human Resources, Tsapelas’ removal was due to an “inability to take ownership of work.” It also said, “... tasks have not been completed as assigned. Additionally, you have been insubordinate and unreceptive to the coaching or feedback being provided to assist you in meeting expectations.”
Some of the complaints as detailed in the final warning letter submitted on Friday, April 27, included, “A parking spot was not properly reserved for a prospective M.S. candidate,” “A room reservation was not completed as directed” and “Call forwarding on [Tsapelas’] line was not deactivated when [she] returned from leave as requested.”
Tsapelas felt that the charges were inconsequential. “No one else would have made a big deal to put that stuff in a report, that I didn’t forward a call, that I didn’t go downstairs and wait for somebody that was getting a parking spot,” she said. “Then she got me for insubordination because I didn’t go to a staff meeting. I didn’t go to a staff meeting because she was screaming at me and I refused to go.”
After getting radiation on her head for medical complications, Tsapelas began getting visual seizures about five years ago. These seizures, Tsapelas says, are brought on by stress. She said that after she began working under Burke, her seizures started acting up again due to the bullying.
“With her they got so bad, it was to the point that it was blinding. That’s what happens because it’s something in front of your eye. Now I’m driving, and I have to pull over. That’s never happened to me,” Tsapelas said. “I was doing that for a while. It was just getting worse and worse.”
Her doctor requested that Tsapelas take five weeks of medical leave in order to subdue the seizures. She said her doctor told her, “You can’t stay in that environment. You have to get out.”
In a text message sent to her brother on Friday, Jan. 26, Tsapelas told him after she says she was berated, “I’m shaking, you should have heard how she spoke to me.”
In response, her brother responded, “Take off Monday. Don’t let her get to you.”
Former department chairs, Dr. Daniel Tinkelman and Dr. Elizabeth Venuti, spoke highly of Tsapelas while she worked under them.
“Joann is very diligent and committed to getting her work done on time and professionally. She frequently worked extra hours to complete tasks. In doing her work, she requires very little oversight,” Tinkelman, who was chair in the fall of 2015, said. “It never crossed my mind to write up a complaint.”
Venuti said that while she served as chair of the department from January 2013 through August 2015, Joann’s assistance was invaluable. “In some measure, I would say that she trained me for the job. I could count on Joann to keep track of my calendar, deadlines, department budget and more. Joann was an integral part of the team that helped with the 2013 AACSB Accounting Accreditation process,” Venuti said.
Tsapelas said she is going to arbitration because the removal will smear her reputation. “I can’t go anywhere now to work because when anybody calls in that’s what they’re going to tell them.”
When The Chronicle reached out to the university, the Assistant Vice President of University Relations Karla Schuster said, “The university does not comment on personnel matters.”
Burke could not be reached for comment.