Friday, May 18, 2012

Lawsuits Pile Up Against Decatur Schools

"Reporter of the Year" award recipient, Kara Kenney, reports on two recent lawsuits brought against the MSD Decatur Township.  These are in addition to the racial harassment lawsuit filed last August by a 16 year old student (see "Decatur School District - Discrimination Lawsuits and (Could It Be?) Stinson Retiring").

Kenney reports:
Bus driver Teresa Surber, 56, alleges she went on medical leave for a hysterectomy in the spring of 2011 and when she returned, MSD of Decatur Township did not renew her contract.
Surber had worked with MSD of Decatur Township for 25 years, RTV6's Kara Kenney reported. 
In the lawsuit filed May 11, Surber alleged the district kept younger, less qualified bus drivers.
The next filing mentioned by Kenney is the 2nd one filed by former School District Security Officer, Keith Jones.
Jones filed an age discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after he was terminated in 2010. 
Jones’ [2nd] lawsuit states the school’s former Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Baer, retaliated against him by coming out of retirement to write a letter in Jones’ file calling him a “bad employee.” 
“That was wrong,” said Ken Roberts, Jones’ attorney. “It’s important because Jones was an elderly employee and elderly employees should have the same rights as everyone else. You should not discriminate on the basis of age. And once someone makes a charge of discrimination you can’t come back and retaliate against the person.” 
Roberts said Jones had no previous write ups, and an otherwise clean employee record.
In addition to suing the District, Jones' lawsuit over retaliation also names individuals Don Stinson, Jeff Baer, Susan Adams as well as the District's attorney, Jon Bailey, and his law firm, Bose, McKinney & Evans.  Bailey was also the attorney for Wayne Township's School District when former Superintendent Thompon's infamous contract was signed and which is now a matter of litigation (see Kenney's earlier report on WRTV "Atty. Central to Superintendent's $1 Million Retirement Fired").

Jones filed an age discrimination complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on January 4, 2011.  On January 19, 2011, after the District was notified of the complaint by the EEOC, Jeff Baer came back to the District headquarters and penned a negative letter against Jones and put it in Jones' file.  Baer had been retired from the District for six months when he penned the letter.  Retaliation against an employee for filing a complaint is strictly against the law.

Curiously, the Distict's attorney handling Jones' age discrimination lawsuit, Karen Sharp, tells Kenney the following:
On behalf of the school district, attorney Karen Sharp told RTV6 there is no evidence Jones’ firing and failure to rehire him was because of his age. 
“Mr. Jones, the Plaintiff in this lawsuit, previously filed two charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against MSD of Decatur Township, both of which have been dismissed as lacking evidence of any violation of the civil rights laws. The school agrees with the assessment of the EEOC that the Plaintiffs claims are meritless and will defend the lawsuit on that basis,” Sharp said in a statement.
It is curious that a lawyer would characterize the EEOC's action of 'dismissing' the complaint as meaning it lacked evidence of a violation.  In two minutes I was able to get the following from the EEOC's website:
If you plan to file a lawsuit alleging discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, genetic information, or retaliation, you first have to file a charge with one of our field offices (unless you plan to bring your lawsuit under the Equal Pay Act, which allows you to go directly to court without filing a charge). We will give you what is called a “Notice-of-Right-to- Sue” at the time we dismiss your charge, usually, after completion of an investigation. However, we may dismiss for other reasons, including failure to cooperate in an investigation. This notice gives you permission to file a lawsuit in a court of law.
So, when the EEOC 'dismisses' a charge, it simultaneously issues a "notice-of-right-to-sue".  One cannot file a lawsuit until the EEOC reviews your charges and finds, in fact, that there just may be substance to your claims - not that no such substance exists.  Why a lawyer (also with Bose, McKinney & Evans) would make such statement to the press is perplexing, as it surely misrepresents what the EEOC process actual is.

Jones lawsuit over retaliation claims that Susan Adams, Don Stinson, and Jeff Baer conspired to have Baer to come to the District offices specifically to write the negative letter for the file. It further asserts that the letter contained false information and that Bailey repeated that false information in his response to the EEOC regarding Jones' age discrimination complaint.

At this point, the School District is fighting 4 lawsuits - one for racial discrimination and harrassment, two for age discrimination and one for retaliation.


Paul K. Ogden said...

Bingo, Pat. That attorney is blatantly misstating the EEOC's role and what happened with Keith Jones complaints. The EEOC does not "dismiss" discrimination claims. They issue a right to sue letter if they can't substantiate the claims in their brief investigaton of the matter or if too much time passes and the litigant wants to proceed with the lawsuit.

The EEOC's finding that the agency can't substantiate the discrimination means nothing. Getting the right to sue letter is just a requisite first step to filing a lawsuit.

Paul K. Ogden said...

"The school agrees with the assessment of the EEOC that the Plaintiffs claims are meritless"

I just now read that closer. That is such a complete and utter misrepresentation of the EEOC's decision. It is so bad it is almost unethical. If I was the attorney for the EEOC, I would unload both barrells on that attorney for lying about the EEOC's determination and what it means. The EEOC never says claims are "meritless."

Had Enough Indy? said...

Thanks Paul. I have a question for you about indemnification. I know many places of business indemnify their supervisors as a routine matter when engaging in non-criminal activities on behalf of the organization. But, since Baer was retired when he wrote the letter, is he likely eligible for the district to pick up his lawyer's tab?

Anonymous said...

It is gratifying to see that the EEOC upholds the rights of older workers and that MSD employees are beginning to stand up for their rights under the law. Older teachers in the district are being pressured to retire early because they are at the top of the pay scale. Younger teachers are cheaper to pay and that's all Don Stinson and the school board care about. Stinson has hand-picked Debbie Sullivan to take his job when Stinson leaves in July. So there is no doubt Stinson's policies will continue long after he is gone. There will likely be more MSD employees filing complaints with the EEOC in the future.

Anonymous said...

Who's running for School Board in November? Two seats open; Huffman and Greenwald right? Any word?

Anonymous said...

Im sure it will be hand picked like everythng else