Principal’s suit against local district tossed

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A federal magistrate has terminated a lawsuit against the Marysville Exempted Village School District.

Former Northwood Elementary School Principal Melissa Hackett had filed suit in federal court, claiming the district violated her right to due process in firing her.

Last week Judge Edmund A. Saragus Jr., ruled that Hackett had not filed her suit within the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions allowed by the Ohio Revised Code.

A state court has yet to rule on a suit Hackett has filed there. In the state action, filed simultaneously to the federal suit, Hackett is asking the court to compel the school district to reinstate her and to pay more than $500,000 in back wages and benefits as well as for emotional distress.

Hackett was removed as principal at Northwood Elementary School on April 24, 2015. She had been a principal in the district for 15 years.

On July 17, 2015, Hackett received a letter informing her the board was placing her on unpaid suspension while it considered the termination of her administrative and teaching contracts. Hackett demanded a referee hearing, which was scheduled, but never took place and was not rescheduled.

In October 2018, Hackett filed a lawsuit in federal court, alleging she was denied her right of due process. In the suit, Hackett claimed she had a three-year contract with an automatic two-year renewal, unless she was advised in writing that it was not being exercised.

The lawsuits argue that under Ohio Revised Code, the district cannot terminate an employee without a referee hearing and a report from the referee. Hackett’s suits argue that she is required to request a referee and to participate in the selection of a referee. Both sides have stipulated that she did both of them. The suit alleges it is the school’s obligation to provide that hearing, which both sides agree did not happen.

Hackett’s attorney, Dennis Pergram, argues that since the district did not follow the process to terminate her, the statute of limitations clock did not begin on the date she learned she was being fired, but should begin July 31, 2017, the expiration date of her contract.

The federal court rejected that argument.

“The typical lay person in (Hackett’s) situation, should have known to protect their rights when they received notice that (the district) suspended her without pay and was seeking to terminate her contract in mid-July 2015,” according to the judge’s entry.

The judge wrote that while Hackett may not have known “the full extent of her injuries” when she received the termination notice, the letter, “clearly should have put (Hackett) on notice that she needed to protect her rights. And while (Hackett) began to protect her rights by demanding a referee-hearing, she did not file the present lawsuit until October 25, 2018, over three years after she first received notice that (the district) was suspending her without pay and seeking to terminate her employment.”

According to information in the Ohio Department of Education database, Hackett currently holds a five-year elementary school principal license and a five-year superintendent license, both of which were approved in November 2018. She also holds a permanent license to teach kindergarten through eighth grade, issued in 1997.

Marysville Superintendent Diane Mankins said allegations of “unprofessional behavior” against Hackett were brought to the board office about a week before Hackett was removed.

In a letter included with Hackett’s personnel file, Mankins listed seven allegations against the former principal that were used for her termination.

In the letter, Mankins accused Hackett of using school employees to work at her home during school hours and of using school owned property at her home for personal use.

Mankins listed other reasons for termination, including “repeated instances” of profanity, failing to follow the district’s teacher evaluation process, misrepresenting information to staff including information about blizzard bag make-up days and the district’s redistricting plan and falsification of information provided to staff about building and district matters.

After Hackett was terminated, the district filed a report with the Ohio Department of Education as required. After a hearing, the Ohio Department of Education issued an official admonishment, “based on Ms. Hackett engaging in a continuing course of conduct that is unbecoming to the teaching profession.”

Mankins said she could not comment on the federal litigation because of the case still pending in the state court.

The Journal-Tribune has reached out to Pergram for comment from him or from Hackett, though calls went unreturned.



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