District settles Wuopio lawsuit, terms undisclosed
June 16, 2010 - Following more than an hour-long closed session of the Brandon Board of Education voted 7-0 to settle a lawsuit between the school district and former district employee June Wuopio.
Brandon Schools Superintendent Lorrie McMahon confirmed a settlement was near.
"The case never went to trial," she said. "The total liabilty of the district was settled. Out of respect to the privacy of June—I can't really say anything more about the case."
Sarah Prescott, attorney representing Wuopio from the Law Offices of Deborah Gordan was pleased with the outcome.
"A draft agreement was presented to the (Brandon School) board for the superintendent to sign," said Prescott. "With a few tweaks, it's all but a done deal. June (Wuopio) is looking to put this case behind her. There's vindication in the settlement, her attorney fees are covered, her school retirement and her on-leave reinstatement was addressed."
"The claim that her First Amendment Rights were violated was the strongest of all," said Prescott. "Even to the Appellate Court. They (the Brandon School District) are not going to admit that, but they saw the writing on the wall, they were going to have to face a jury trial. It took a long time, but we had no reason to settle."
In February 2008, The Brandon Board of Education, and then Superintendent Tom Miller, along with Marian Horowitz, along with boardmember Beth Nuccio and former boardmembers Ken Quisenberry and Gina Muzzarelli, were named in a lawsuit filed by Wuopio.
The suit was prompted for retaliation in violation of Wuopio's rights to freedom of speech under the Michigan Constitution and under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; for violation of her statutory rights under the Bullard-Plawecki Act; and for violation of her due process rights under the United States Constitution, according to the 13-page complaint, filed in Oakland County Circuit Court on Feb. 21, 2008.
According to the complaint, Wuopio began employment with the district in 1980 as a substitute teacher, was hired as the youth enrichment coordinator for the 1980-1981 school year and in 1987 was promoted to community education director for the district. Over the course of Wuopio's employment with the district, she was promoted numerous times and received substantial raises annually.
The complaint goes on to state that around Jan. 1, 2005, the district began a search for a new superintendent and Wuopio joined a committee that was formed at the request of the school board to provide feedback in the search. The two final candidates were Miller and Nancy Campbell. During a special meeting on or about Feb. 16, 2005, the complaint said that it became quickly clear the board favored Miller. Wuopio and many other members of the community recommended Campbell, and after Wuopio made a statement to that effect, the complaint alleges that Quisenberry "glared" at Wuopio and threatened her verbally.
Miller was hired and subsequently hired Horowitz as assistant superintendent of instruction and curriculum. The suit alleges that following her hiring in August 2005, Horowitz immediately engaged in an aggressive campaign of harassment and intimidation directed at Wuopio, while Miller dismissed Wuopio's concerns about harassment.
She refused to resign and on or about April 10, 2006, while Wuopio was on sick leave as a result of harassment by Horowitz, the board approved the elimination of her position effective June 30, 2006. On April 14, Wuopio requested a transfer to the position of Brandon Fletcher Intermediate School principal, which was being vacated by the retiring Don Patrick, but Miller said he wanted her to take a newly created position as assistant principal at Brandon Middle School. Wuopio was confirmed to the new position on May 22, 2006 and returned to work in June. Only a few days later, she was told by Miller that after a close scrutiny of Head Start records, which Wuopio had been responsible for, it would be better if she were not around. He told her around July 31, 2006 that he was going to the board with a recommendation to terminate her. After a year of harassment, Wuopio resigned Aug. 9, 2006.
In June 2008, the case was moved to federal court and was assigned to Sean Cox, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan. Then in April 2009 attorney Daniel J. Kelly, representing the Brandon Board of Education submitted a 25-page document to United States District Judge Sean Cox. Kelly argued that the facts and law do not support Wuopio's contention that the defendants violated her constitutional rights of freedom of speech and procedural due process.
In the motion, Kelly acknowledged that Wuopio, the former community education director, was investigated after her staff complained of her poor performance, was reprimanded, had her position terminated due to financial restraints, transferred into another position and, rather than having the board vote to terminate her employment after serious infractions came to light, resigned. However, he says it is "disingenuous for the plaintiff to contend that these actions were the result of plaintiff's speech."
The case never went to trail.
"There's no ill-will from June," said Prescott.
"She was very connected with the community and hopes not to stir the pot any further. There will be nothing in her work file regarding discipline. Her reputation is clear."
Prescott would not confirm the total dollar amount of the settlement, however she said it was greater than $125,000 that had been rumored.
She added that Wuopio's retirement will reflect more than 25 years of accrued service to the district.
"It's unfortunate for the district. It's too bad this had to happened."