School bookkeeper claims firing from Freeburg unfair

Steve Gonzalez Oct. 6, 2005, 7:12am

District Attorney Shane Jones

A Waterloo woman claims Freeburg School District 70 violated the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) when board members fired her for excessive absenteeism, according to a suit filed Sept. 26 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Debra Lewis, who was terminated from her bookkeeping position on March 23, says she was directed to take FMLA leave by district superintendent Rob Hawkins on Nov. 9, 2004. Lewis needed time off to care for her seriously ill mother.

Lewis, who also is suing board members, Hawkins and the district's attorney, Shane Jones of Edwardsville, said she was given the option of resigning or being permanently reassigned to a teacher’s aid position. But that job was not equivalent in terms of pay, authority, or responsibility to the bookkeeper position, Lewis claims.

The suit contends that Jones defamed Lewis by replying to an email which read, “The district has determined that Lewis’s performance in the bookkeeper job assignment is not satisfactory.”

Lewis claims the statement is not supported by the record, was contradictory to the statements made orally and in writing by Hawkins at the time of her firing, made without investigation, were false and defamatory and was made maliciously for the sole purpose of defeating her rights under the FMLA.

Lewis also claims Hawkins lists a number of items that were discovered after she was fired and implied they were reasons for her firing. But, Lewis claims it would be implausible to fire someone for reasons yet undiscovered.

“All the instances of alleged unsatisfactory performance leading to Lewis’ firing as related by the defendants are mere pretext and the real reason she was fired was stated contemporaneously with her discharge and that reason was absenteeism," the complaint states.

Lewis also claims Hawkins hired a young man he befriended.

“The conduct of Hawkins, with the aid and assistance of Jones, amounted to a scheme to betray Lewis by encouraging her to take time off work to care for herself and her mother, and then, without warning, firing her for doing just that, was done so he could put his special friend in her job, all while knowing Lewis was trying to cope with enormous stress relating to the illness and deaths of her family members and friends, and caring for her sick and aged mother, was extreme and outrageous.”

Lewis is seeking an award for monetary damages for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, past and future benefits and pension, prejudgment interest, and exemplary damages in excess of $50,000.

She is represented by David Lewis of Waterloo.

05 L 559 (20th Circuit)

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