More legal headaches for Dexter Suggs | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

More legal headaches for Dexter Suggs

Posted By on Tue, Apr 21, 2015 at 4:24 PM

Dexter Suggs may have cleared out his office before the workday began today, but he still has lingering legal matters as defendant in lawsuits against him and the state.

A new development today is a motion by attorney John Walker for five Jefferson Elementary teachers seeking to intervene in an earlier lawsuit filed against Suggs by the Little Rock Education Association over his decision to terminate contracts with teachers who provided the Reading Recovery program. It names Suggs, Education Commissioner Johnny Key and the state Board of Education. It claims, as a contract dispute, that the motion fits with the earlier lawsuit.

These teachers were among those who, on their own time, used space at the school for summer classes for which parents paid. They had permission from the principal and similar programs operate around the district. It contends Suggs and the District moved to punish the teachers because one of them, Teresa Knapp Gordon, had brought a complaint against a district administrator over abuse of sick time by her and employees associated with her. Pictures of the group on a pleasure trip to New York were posted on Facebook. Suggs dismissed the complaint, as did the state Education Department's ethics unit after, the motion says, interviewing only Suggs.

The motion to intervene says the procedure violated the state Fair Dismissal Act. The complaint says that, because of complaints from "prominent citizens," Suggs withdrew the complaint, but didn't withdraw allegations about misuse of district resources. The intervention motion said that is defamatory.

The complaint alleges that Suggs and Education Commissioner Johnny Key remained  "determined to punish the proposed intervenor plaintiffs by terminating their employment pursuant to a notice to be delivered to each of
them on or before May 1, 2015." It argues this constituted a hostile work environment based on "retaliation, race and gender." It also argues that the expanded investigation against more than Gordon was undertaken with the apparent consent of both former Education Commissioner Tony Wood and Johnny Key.

The motion ranges into other actions by Suggs, including replacement of white administrative employees with mostly younger African-American employees. It mentions two employees hired without regard to policies on posting job openings to supervise academic programs and testing.

The motion seeks a declaratory judgment that intervenors rights have been violated and a hearing for monetary damages.

The case is in Judge Wendell Griffen's court. Griffen was also assigned the lawsuit challenging state takeover of the district. The state has argued for dismissal of the case. Griffen was on record before the vote as opposing a takeover of the district. Griffen enjoined the takeover pending a trial, but the state Supreme Court lifted the injunction until it could decide whether the case should be dismissed.

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