Doris Hope-Jackson, Laconda Hicks sue Willow Run school district
Updated at 1:40 p.m.: This story has been updated with details from the police report filed with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department.
Moves by the Willow Run school board to fire Doris Hope-Jackson and Laconda Hicks were made in retaliation after the pair of administrators filed a police report against the board president, Hope-Jackson and Hicks allege in new lawsuits.
In the lawsuits filed by both Hope-Jackson and Hicks, they claim board President Sheri Washington “verbally and otherwise” assaulted them in early September 2009. The pair say they filed a police report against Washington, which started Washington’s campaign to fire them.
The suits ask for monetary compensation and for the judge to reinstate them to their prior positions.
The school board voted in May to fire Hicks, who was the district’s student services administrator.
A due process hearing for Hope-Jackson has been ongoing since late last month. She was demoted from superintendent in December to a newly created position as director of information and assessment.
Washington said Thursday the ongoing hearing with Hope-Jackson dealing with many of the same issues raised in the lawsuits made it impossible for her to comment on the specifics of the suits.
But Washington said it wasn't a case of looking for more power in the district.
“I’m an old-school Willow Run Flyer," she said. "I was taught here in this school by an awesome cadre of teachers to question everything. This office does not define Sheri Washington. It’s service I owe to this community. I don’t have any power-tripping (going on).”
In the lawsuits, filed in late June in Washtenaw County Circuit Court, Hope-Jackson said that on Sept. 1, 2009, while she was still superintendent, she was “assaulted both verbally and otherwise” in a conference room at the district. She said she advised the school board of it that day.
Hope-Jackson sent an e-mail that day at 1:42 p.m., which was obtained by AnnArbor.com through a Freedom of Information Act request sent before the lawsuit was filed. The incident occurred after a meeting with the Willow Run teachers union. Hope-Jackson wrote that she decided to adjourn the meeting, and that’s when the assault happened.
“Ms. Washington became irate. Yelling at me as though she were my parent. This was observed by everyone present at the meeting. She stated that up to that point, she was fine with the way the meeting had been handled, but that I had made an assumption about her. When asked if she thought the manner in which she was addressing me was appropriate, she stated, ‘This is the tone that you’re going to get anytime I feel disrespected.’
"No one had disrespected her. Her behavior was out of control and unwarranted. It was Ms. Washington who was blatantly disrespectful. I stated that it was inappropriate to reprimand me in the presence of WREA members. She responded, ‘I’ll see you at 3:30.’ I responded that I didn’t think we should meet again today. She walked over to were (sic) I was sitting, standing to the right of me, slammed her open hand on the table, repeating, ‘This is what you’ll get every time I feel that you are disrespecting me.’”
Hope-Jackson also said that in previous meetings with Washington, her job was threatened.
“In both prior sessions, I have been told that the district can’t move forward with me as superintendent. My contract is valid through June 30, 2013 and there are laws against employee harassment.”
Washington responded to the e-mail less than two hours later.
“Dr. Jackson, I detest your persistent misquotes and blatant lies regarding comments that I have made. Your divisive deeds stop today . Your assertion of harassment at my hand has no merit, no basis.”
That wasn't the first time the duo exchanged testy e-mails. Washington has been critical of Hope-Jackson for most of Hope-Jackson’s time with the district, even though Washington voted to hire Hope-Jackson.
In her separate lawsuit, Hicks alleges she was “assaulted, both verbally and otherwise in her office by defendant Washington” on Sept. 15.
The lawsuits say Hope-Jackson and Hicks filed police reports with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department the next day.
In the police report obtained by AnnArbor.com today, Hope-Jackson told the deputy Washington began "acting belligerently" at a meeting, yelling that Hope-Jackson "had to go" and banged on the table.
Hicks told police that about two hours after the incident with Hope-Jackson, Washington came to her office, removed her keys from her door and threw them on the desk, the police report said. She said Washington asked her "specific details" she didn't feel comfortable releasing, so Hicks told her to talk to the superintendent, and Washington began "ranting and raving," the report said. The report did not specify what Washington was allegedly asking for details about.
The report was filed for informational purposes only at the request of Hope-Jackson and Hicks, it indicates. The nature of the report is listed as "assist citizen," and says "not a crime" under the disposition.
In their lawsuits, Hicks and Hope-Jackson allege the police report kicked off the effort to get rid of them.
“Following the disclosure of Dr. Hicks’ reporting of defendant Washington’s assault to the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department, defendants, at the insistence of defendant Washington, engaged the services of an auditor/investigator to investigate Dr. Hick’s employment activity," the lawsuits state. "Upon information and belief, the auditor/investigator, following a covert investigation, found no wrongdoing on the part of Dr. Hicks.
“Despite the fact that the auditor/investigator hired by the district to uncover Dr. Hick’s alleged improprieties found no wrongdoing, defendant Washington charged Dr. Hicks with several allegations of misconduct as it relates to her employment with WRCS.”
The charges leveled against Hicks and Hope-Jackson by the board accuse them of conspiring to defraud the district of money in a number of circumstances.
Their attorney, Darryl Segars, said those charges are false.
“Many, if not all, of the charges, are something that had already been approved by the board, or if it hadn’t decided on them, it certainly was aware of them," he said. "It is intellectually dishonest to suggest that in 2008 something was OK, but in 2010 it isn’t it.
“In this day and age, it’s sad that two such fine people and educators have to be subject to this.”
David Jesse covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 734-623-2534.