School for scandal: Fayetteville sex harassment case goes public | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, August 9, 2018

School for scandal: Fayetteville sex harassment case goes public

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 8:03 AM

click to enlarge SUES: Former superintendent Wendt.
  • SUES: Former superintendent Wendt.
Mathew Wendt, fired as Fayetteville school superintendent after a district employee accused him of sexual harassment, has now sued the woman, Shae Lynn Newman, a former elementary teacher Wendt had hired as a receptionist. This would seem to scuttle efforts by Newman and her lawyer in other legal actions to keep details of their relationship and her identity secret.

Wendt contends that the relationship between the two, both married, was consensual and that her decision to make public a complaint of sexual harassment interfered with his contract with the district and led to his firing. Now he's unemployable, he said. The lawsuit argues that she could have made her harassment complaint, founded or unfounded, before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission without the matter being made public.

Wendt insists he hadn't coerced Newman or threatened her with any job action.

Wendt contends the district's lawyer had investigated Newman's complaint (using a lawyer who'd been hired by Wendt) and found there was no cause for action against Wendt. But later, the school board fired Wendt after the matter broke into public view.

Wendt's lawsuit, which you can read here, details text messages from Newman to him that he says indicate her affection and willing participation. He details gifts she gave him ranging from bottles of wine to a custom Yeti mug. He says he provided her monthly financial assistance of $500 to $600 a month and, on one occasion, $4,000 in cash — the last recorded on school security cameras — to help defray her expenses. He said he also bought her a set of tires. He contends she edited text messages released by her lawyer to improve appearances for her case, while failing to provide others. Examples of her texts in the suit:

Dates: October – December:
• “I'm not sure what it is... sometimes I think... If something is to good to be true it probably is. I do feel/know that you are a brilliant/handsome man.”

• “Your a brilliant n handsome man. I'm sure you already know that though. :-)”

• “If I could live my life over again I would choose you to be my first everything :)”
Newman's effort to protect her anonymity had already been upended by the work of blogger Russ Racop, who has a pending FOI lawsuit for school district documents that explain why the School Board fired Wendt. Racop used information provided publicly by Newman's attorney, Suzanne Clark, to establish her identity.

Beyond the salacious material already spread on the record, some important questions exist. Was it really not a personnel problem for the top administrator of the Fayetteville School District to have an affair with a direct subordinate, even if consensual? Did members of the School Board first hope this mess would be resolved quietly and secretly? Some of those pushing for document release are interested, particularly, in the School Board oversight in this matter.

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