Part 3 – Harvard School Psychologist Wins 7th Circuit Reversal of Wrongful Termination Suit Dismissal

Without using an attorney, former Harvard school psychologist Peter Koehn won reversal of the dismissal of a suit concerning his termination by Harvard Unit School District 50.

Then-Superintendent Lauri Tobias is listed as the lead defendant.  Judges William Bauer, John Daniel Tinder and David Hamilton rendered the decision.

At the Federal Circuit Court level, the school district was granted a summary judgment in its favor.

Koehn appealed.

Here is more of the Federal Court Court of Appeals decision:

Harvard Admin Central Central SchoolThat September, after the start of classes, Koehn discovered that Principal Segersten had ordered cuts in individualized instruction for some special education students at the junior high. Around September 10,

Segersten called Koehn to a meeting to discuss those cuts.

Koehn voiced concern that Segersten had violated federal and state law by reducing the amount of individualized instruction.

Koehn thought those cuts had been made without adequately involving parents and the team of professionals responsible for developing Individualized Education Programs.

Four weeks later, on October 7, Principal Segersten wrote Koehn directing him to attend an “investigatory meeting” on October 12 to discuss “job performance” and “conduct” deficiencies.

In her letter Segersten accused Koehn of not providing and documenting special education services.

She also accused him of disregarding District 50 policies concerning attendance and Internet usage.

Her letter warned that he could face discipline, including discharge.

Koehn replied by e-mail that he would not attend without his choice of representative.

Koehn asserted in his e-mail that Segersten was trying to bully him into accepting her decisions without exercising independent professional judgment, and he called the timing of her letter—“about the day after” he and some parents had discussed the junior high’s “lack of interventions” in math and reading—an “interesting coincidence.”

Koehn did not attend the October 12 meeting.

Two days later Principal Segersten wrote again rescheduling the session and warning that Koehn could not “dictate” terms or “set conditions.”

Koehn replied on October 15 with a sharply worded e-mail demanding documentation that Segersten was authorized to discipline, or even supervise, him.

Segersten did not answer this demand.

At summary judgment the defendants did not dispute Koehn’s assertion, citing his job description, that Superintendent Tobias, not Segersten, would have been his direct supervisor at this time (a role she would have assumed after becoming superintendent more than two years before).

Nor did the defendants submit any evidence that Segersten’s position as principal of the junior high imparted authority to convene an “investigatory meeting” about Koehn’s performance as a psychologist with district-wide responsibilities.

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More tomorrow.


Part 3 – Harvard School Psychologist Wins 7th Circuit Reversal of Wrongful Termination Suit Dismissal — 3 Comments

  1. Margaret K Segersten

    1991 – $21,330
    1992 – $23,441
    1993 – $26,171
    1994 – $28,207
    1995 – $32,607
    1996 – $36,536
    1997 – $42,144
    1998 – $43,133
    1999 – $44,948 – Antioch CCSD 34 – Masters degree (not sure in which year prior to 1999 Masters was obtained)
    2000 – $43,071 – Antioch CCSD 34
    2001 – $45,697 – Antioch CCSD 34
    2002 – $48,050 – Antioch CCSD 34 – Middle School Science Teacher
    2003 – $50,072 – Antioch CCSD 34 – Middle School Science Teacher
    2004 – $58,684 – Antioch CCSD 34 – Middle School PE Teacher
    2005 – $65,273 – Antioch CCSD 34 – Middle School PE Teacher
    2006 – $66,829 – Antioch CCSD 34 – Middle School PE Teacher
    2007 – $63,351 – McHenry CCSD 15 – Middle School Principal
    2008 – $60,914 – McHenry CCSD 15 – Middle School Principal
    2009 – $67,000 – McHenry CCSD 15 – Middle School Principal
    2010 – $87,802 – Harvard CUSD 50 – Middle School Principal
    2011 – $87,802 – Harvard CUSD 50 – Middle School Principal
    2012 – $90,173 – Harvard CUSD 50 – Middle School Principal – 22nd year worked
    2013 – $93,198 – Harvard CUSD 50 – 23rd year worked.
    2014 – $95,993 – Harvard CUSD 50 – 24th year worked.

    Sources: Open The Books widget, Family Taxpayers Foundation teacher and administrator salary database, ISBE TSR.

  2. It’s arguable the salary is justified but it’s the public sector pensions are a bigger problem.

    The starting pension is 75% of the average of the last 4 years worked, after 35 years of service.

    So in this case, let’s say the teacher had worked a full career of 35 years, using the above salary figures, $87,802 + $90,173 + $93,198 + $95,993 = $367,166.
    $367,166 / 4 = $91,791.
    $91,791 * .75 = $68,843.

    Except, the above teacher has only 24 years worked, she has another 11 years until full retirement to hike her salary, can you imagine what her starting pension will be?

    Thanks to legislative benefit hikes since 1971 to underfunded pensions and the diversion of pension funding to salary funding, amongst other gimmicks, we have a completely impossible scenario and today’s benefit levels.

    No chance taxpayers would put up with the tax hikes necessary to fund that system given the service cuts that would result, too many taxpayers would move, which is the principle of the Laffer curve (you can only raise taxes so high before the hikes result in diminished returns).

    Back to the pension scenario, that was full retirement with no retirement perks.

    Retirement perks include exchange up to 2 years of accumulated sick leave, for 2 years of service credit, in which case one could retire after 33 years worked.

    Retirement perks include early retirement option (ERO), in which the school district contributes 2x the amount as the employee to retire earlier than the above scenarios.

    By the way if employee decides not to retire under ERO, the employee receives a rebate of their ERO contributions that they have been paying as part of the 9.4% employee contribution to the TRS pension fund; except that in the majority of school districts in Illinois, the employee contributes little to nothing to the pension fund thanks to employer pension pickups.

    Retirement perks include those districts that hike pay up to 6% per year for the last 4 years of the employees career.

    Retirement perks include taxpayer subsidized early retiree healthcare insurance only available to teachers and administrators.

    And the list goes on and on.

    Back to the wrongful termination suit.

    We don’t know the full story, but it has happened where the teacher or in this case the psychologist feels students have been wronged, subsequently stands up for the students, only to find themselves the subject of retribution.

    Other times, the administration attempts to get rid of of a teacher or employee whom they feel is substandard, and sometimes that process takes years, have to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

    The worst is the actual or suspected employeee’s suspected of sexual abuse of students, yet there is not enough evidence or it would be too expensive to follow all the laws, so the district “passes the trash”, allowing the employee to resign and join another district with a positive recommendation, and the abuse continues.

    Not the majority but that does happen.

    And we could go on and on.

    And there’s no insinuation here the psychologist above falls in that latter category, rather it seems based on the story there’s at least enough doubt in the way the termination was handled that the psychologist can continue with the suit.

    Interesting case.

    If nothing else a takeaway from the story is to be sure to follow all the policies, procedures, and laws.

  3. Actually I wonder if teachers and administrators are entitled to an ERO rebate upon retirement in those cases where the employee does not retire under ERO and there has been 100% or partial pension pickup by the employer (school district)…there are so many different scenarios it’s next to impossible to know all the rules and exceptions.

    TRS could answer that question.

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