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Posted on Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Ex-superintendent's lawsuit prompts arbitrator to call 2-year dispute in Willow Run 'a sad indictment'

By Danielle Arndt


A legal dispute involving former Willow Run Superintendent Doris Hope-Jackson has been going on since June 2010. file photo

Legal action contesting the firing of former Willow Run Superintendent Doris Hope-Jackson may finally be nearing closure, despite a new lawsuit that was filed Oct. 22 in Washtenaw County Circuit Court.

The legal battle between Hope-Jackson, the Willow Run school board and former board President Sheri Washington has dragged on for two and half years.

It has involved allegations of verbal assault, retaliation, misconduct, the misappropriation of funds, a spurned lesbian advance, harassment, defamation of character and more.

Previous coverage:

In the most recent lawsuit, Hope-Jackson and her attorney have asked for the court to vacate an Oct. 1 arbitration award, which was made in favor of the school district, and to reopen the first lawsuit before Circuit Court Judge Timothy Connors.

The first lawsuit was dismissed in March 2011 when Hope-Jackson decided to pursue her claims that she was unjustly fired in arbitration.

Court documents show that she filed a demand for arbitration against Washington and the school district with the American Arbitration Association in December 2010.

Connors told Hope-Jackson she could not have the dispute addressed by multiple systems and would need to choose whether to address all of the matters in court or all in arbitration, sources said.

Arbitration is a private dispute resolution mechanism in which an arbitrator hears the evidence of the claims and makes a binding decision. Attorneys told that arbitration awards are rarely overturned and the courts have limited grounds in which to do that.

A court may vacate an arbitration award if the award is the product of fraud, corruption or serious misconduct by the arbitrator.

The parties will appear in Circuit Court at 9 a.m. on Nov. 29 for a hearing. If Connors rejects Hope-Jackson’s motion to vacate the arbitration and reopen the suit, the suit will be over. If Connors agrees to vacate the arbitration award, the dispute could continue.


Former Willow Run superintendent Doris Hope-Jackson argued former school board President Sheri Washington, pictured here, had a personal vendetta against, which led to her firing in 2010. file photo

In his written award, arbitrator Fred M. Mester chastised the parties of the lawsuit for their pettiness and poor behavior, calling the dispute “a sad indictment of the current state of our school systems.”

“In a relationship that should be entirely founded on educating young minds and building our nation’s future, the individuals and organizations involved with the Willow Run Community Schools have distorted their purpose and focused solely on power, personal gain and retribution for meaningless disputes like who has what furniture in their offices,” he wrote.

“This arbitrator firmly believes that if the parties in this matter had put aside their petty differences, they could have reached an amicable resolution to this problem.”

Hope-Jackson originally filed her lawsuit against Washington and the school board in June 2010, after she had been demoted in December 2009 from her position as superintendent to the director of information and assessment, a newly created position.

At the time that Hope-Jackson filed the lawsuit, a due process hearing had been going on for about a month as the school board attempted to fire her. The board eventually did fire her in September 2010, at which point Hope-Jackson amended her lawsuit to add several additional counts to her original claims.

Court documents show the arbitrator dismissed counts of violation of due process, retaliation, defamation, violation of the People with Disabilities Civil Rights Act and quid pro quo sexual harassment on the part of the Board of Education.

On the remaining counts of breach of employee contract, violation of the Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act, violation of the Bullard-Plawecki Employee Right to Know Act and quid pro quo sexual harassment on the part of Washington, the arbitrator awarded in favor of the Willow Run Community Schools.

However, the arbitrator did not agree with the majority of the school board’s reasons for firing Hope-Jackson, court documents show. Mester said Hope-Jackson “appears to be a competent, strong and intelligent leader,” but that her personality clash with Washington led the board to mistrust her and affected her ability to effectively carry out her responsibilities.

Mester had harsh words for Washington, calling her testimony throughout the arbitration process “self-serving, evasive when convenient, and clear and decisive when it served her purposes.”

He wrote this preamble to his award statement:

“Before the arbitrator can issue his findings of fact, the credibility of some key witnesses must be addressed, as their versions of some material events were so inconsistent that trying to find a common thread was like trying to find a needle in a haystack…

“It was apparent (Washington) backfilled her understanding and intentions regarding the pertinent issues to protect her reputation and defend her conduct.”


A screenshot from April 24, 2010, of the website, which former Willow Run board President Sheri Washington ran.


Washington was held in contempt of court on April 20, 2012, for lying under oath about her status as the administrator of the website The site frequently posted articles bashing Hope-Jackson under the anonymous pen names of “Administrator” and “Staff Writer.”

For lying under oath, Mester ordered Washington to pay Hope-Jackson’s reasonable attorney fees and arbitration fees.

Contrarily, in his prelude, Mester said Hope-Jackson was “generally forthright, consistent and authentic.” And although he did not entirely agree with her interpretation of some events, he found her testimony to be credible, he said.

The Willow Run school board accused Hope-Jackson of colluding with former Student Services Administrator Laconda Hicks to get Hicks more than $36,100 in extra pay by modifying her contract without notifying the school board and paying her an extra $100 per hour for attending events outside of school hours, despite Hicks being a salaried employee, among other methods.

The school board sent documents to both Hicks and Hope-Jackson repeatedly alleging the duo had “defrauded” the district.

Mester later concluded there appeared to be some “severe” and “accidental” oversight on the part of Hope-Jackson in awarding Hicks a step-raise and other additional pay. However, Mester said some of what Hope-Jackson did was the result of former practice in the district.

Mester also said there was no evidence Hope-Jackson did anything to “intentionally defraud the district or improperly benefit Hicks.”

He wrote: “Although this arbitrator disagrees with many of the charges … set forth against Jackson, … the board had several legitimate reasons (for firing her).”

Mester also said he has no reason to believe that Washington’s bias clouded the board’s judgment as a whole and therefore, the decision to terminate Hope-Jackson was not retaliatory in nature and was not “arbitrary and capricious,” according to court documents.

Darryl Segars, Hope-Jackson’s attorney, was flabbergasted by Mester’s ruling.

“What it was that he said is that he did not agree with the decision to terminate Dr. Jackson, but then he found in favor of Willow Run... We were just scratching our heads,” Segars said.

“This is the primary reason why we are seeking redress with the Washtenaw County Circuit Court,” Segars said.

Willow Run's attorney, Scott Mandel, declined to comment on the record Thursday. In court documents responding to the Oct. 22 lawsuit, Mandel said Hope-Jackson has “had her day in court.”

“It is time to end this bitter dispute,” he wrote. “Dr. Jackson has been afforded the opportunity to more than fully litigate her claims over the last two and a half years.”

Mandel said Hope-Jackson received an 18-day due process hearing before the school board, consisting of a 2,661-page transcript, that ended on Sept. 7, 2010. The arbitration Hope-Jackson now is challenging lasted 11 days and resulted in a 2,231-page transcript.

Hope-Jackson also deposed nine witnesses and produced more than 5,600 pages of documents in presenting her case in arbitration, which she still lost, he said.

Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at


Dan r OBryan

Tue, Nov 20, 2012 : 1:12 p.m.

dopey jackson still making trouble. this lady was nothing but trouble. ding dong dopeys gone. shes back .

Michelle Valasin

Tue, Nov 20, 2012 : 7:24 a.m.

The former school board did indeed drop the ball on this one. All they saw was a person that had job applications in 3 districts at once. When Detroit Public Schools turned her down that should have been the first red flag right there.


Tue, Nov 20, 2012 : 4:05 a.m.

More educators setting a great example.....Washington even gets to lie under oath and not go to jail? That's just wrong.

Momma G

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 11:10 p.m.

OMG! Hope-Jackson should have been fired long before she was and she is proving she doesn't put children first. She is out to drain all the money from Willow Run that she can get. Go get a real job - not one that you get paid to do nothing! Hard, physical labor might do her good.


Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 9:58 p.m.

Doris Hope-Jackson cared nothing about education or the children of Willow Run Community Schools. She was only there for the money. Check out her previous employment problems. She is, sadly, a vicious person who blithely robbed the district and every student and family in it. The strange part is, the school board could have checked out the train wrecks she created in her previous districts and NOT hired her, let alone have given her a contract extension. This woman is predatory; should NOT be working with humans. SHE should repay WRCS.


Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 9:06 p.m.

At this point it would seem that this very sad situation is not about Ms. Hope-Jackson and Ms. Washington. It seems truly unbelievable that such unprofessional conduct that seriously damages the district and its students and families has been allowed to continue for two and a half more years--while attorney fees mount higher and higher in a district that cannot pay its bills. What does that show about the values, expertise, and leadership skills of those currently in key leadership positions? And an important follow-up question: Who believes that a new district will be able to do any better for students and families if it continues on with that same leadership? There are always misguided folks willing to game the system, or put themselves on the front page to the detriment of a district and its children and families. The important question would seem to be: What does a district choose to do about that, so it can focus its efforts and resources on the very important business of educating its children?


Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 8:48 p.m.

She must have one happy lawyer as he/she has to be raking in the billable hours.

Life in Ypsi

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 5:05 p.m.

Ms. Hope-Jackson, when you came to our district I was impressed with your efforts to improve our district. Now I am saddened by your lack of maturity and respect for the students in our district to continue with this circus. If you really cared about the children in our district (many whom have high needs), you would not being doing this. You are draining resources from them! You have perpetuated many of the myths of our district by your actions. What kind of example are you showing by making false allegations and continuing with the nonsense? Let me answer that for you. You are showing a poor example and when it comes time to take personal responsibility you have shown that all one needs to do is create drama to take the spotlight off one's poor actions. Way to go. I pity the children in any district that you are employed by.

Life in Ypsi

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 5:16 p.m.

* If you really cared about the children in our district (many whom have high needs), you would not be doing this

Life in Ypsi

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 5:08 p.m.

I'm sure if Ms. Washington were white, you would have played the cry wolf race card. Since she is Black, that only left you to make false allegations of sexual harassment. Again, shame on you!


Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 3 p.m.

She has done the same thing in another school district. taking them to court after being fired, costing the district many dollars. She is a scam artist.


Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

Mooonmaiden, it sounds like an opinion, much like all the other ones we are forced to endure every day on every topic under the sun. Keep your veiled threats to yourself.

Chase Ingersoll

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

I wouldn't want these people watching my dog, but here they are in charge of the opportunity of children. Is it any wonder that parents left this district in droves for the Charter Schools, thanking God they had such an option. The bureaucrats are crushing their bureaucracy under the weight of their own corruption and incompetence.


Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 12:42 p.m.

One hopes that this never happens again. One hopes that the new combined district with a new combined school board makes wise choices and is able to focus on the education of the children in the district. This is a sad chapter in history that one hopes the book will be closed on soon. Education should be about the classrooms, children and teachers, not about adminstrators and school boards. The highest goal of anyone involved in education should be the success of the children being educated.

Basic Bob

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

Do they need more than one reason to fire her? And does the arbitrator need to agree with the reasons, or only to acknowledge the board has that right?

Danielle Arndt

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 4:53 p.m.

Basic Bob, thanks for your question. The arbitrator does not necessarily need to agree with the reasons. He only needs to determine whether the board's reasons met an appropriate standard of review. In this case, the arbitrator determined the board's reasons were not arbitrary and capricious. Or in other words, it is the arbitrator's opinion that the board had a good enough reason to fire Ms. Hope-Jackson. Although, Hope-Jackson and her attorney are refuting the standard of review that was applied. I hope this helps add clarity!