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Monday, August 19, 2019

Federal court denies O'Fallon school district's motion to dismiss former administrator's suit

By Glenn Minnis | Jul 10, 2017

BENTON — The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois has returned a mixed ruling in school administrator June Isselhardt’s suit against O'Fallon Community Consolidated School District No. 90.

The origin of the litigation dates back to the summer of 2015, when Isselhardt was still an administrative assistant with the district and Carrie Hruby was named superintendent. 

Not long after that, Isselhardt claimed she grew concerned about Hruby’s job performance and commenced sharing with other employees such concerns as Hruby's handling of the district’s employee health insurance and involvement with a Title I grant for disadvantaged students, including an elected school board member.

Isselhardt also voiced concerns to school board president John Wagnon over his handling of the Illinois Open Meetings Act.

In early 2016, Hruby confronted Isselhardt over a string of critical emails she deemed to be grounds for termination. At that point, she also instructed Isselhardt not to confer with anyone about the matter outside of her attorney or her spouse.

After disregarding Hruby’s directive and discussing the matter with school board members, Isselhardt received a letter informing her that her dismissal would be a topic of discussion at the next school board meeting. She was subsequently terminated largely based on Hruby's recommendation.

In rendering its decision to deny the defendants motion to dismiss Count 1 of the filing, the court ruled that Hruby’s directive imposed a “broad and indefinite prohibition” on Isselhardt’s rights to free speech, particularly given she was speaking with other school board members about matters of public concern.

In granting Hruby’s motion to dismiss Count 3 of the suit without prejudice, which Isselhardt claimed under the Whistleblower Act, the court noted Isselhardt had failed to respond to the defendant's motion to dismiss. The court noted such action can be readily construed as an admission of a filing's lack of merit. 

The orders were signed on June 16 by District Judge Staci M. Yandle. 

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O'Fallon Community Consolidated School District 90 U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois - Benton Division