WORTHINGTON - A lawsuit against Independent School District 518 was filed Monday in U.S. District Court of Minnesota by a teacher who worked for the district for approximately six months earlier this school year.
Karen Abbott, who resigned from her position as District 518 Area Learning Center special education instructor in January, claims the district unlawfully retaliated against her and eventually presented a formal reprimand, which she believes was the ultimate result of her repeatedly reporting alleged special education violations.
Abbott is demanding a jury trial and seeks restitution and interest, front pay and monetary value of any employment benefits she would have been entitled to, prejudgement interest, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, punitive damages and further relief deemed fair and equitable by the court. Abbott, who resides in Sioux Falls, S.D., seeks in excess of $75,000. She is being represented by Minneapolis attorneys Mack Reed and Blaine Balow of Halunen Law.
If legal action is to occur, District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said the district’s attorneys would take action and that he would not be able to provide comments due to the open case.
According to court documents, a summons was issued Tuesday to the district.
Throughout the 15-page complaint, Abbott makes various claims relating to special education violations, her continuously reporting those violations and what she categorized as subsequent verbal attacks, beratement and harassment from fellow teachers and administration.
Abbott claims she was informally reprimanded in late November for allegedly being seven minutes late one morning and for another teacher overhearing her use a curse word, “although it was said in private, during instruction time - completely away from any student’s earshot,” the complaint details.
Abbott - who was hired in June 2017 on a Learning Disabilities variance - claimed the district expedited the deadline by which she was required to commit to earning her license from the end of the school year to Feb. 15.
She continued to report alleged violations, and involved PACER (Champions for Children with Disabilities) - a student advocacy group for students with all disabilities.
She received a formal reprimand - which she claims amounted to a work of fiction - on Jan. 23 for “due process and insubordination,” the complaint states.
Abbott accused the district of engaging in unlawful practices related to her employment, which caused “emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, pain and suffering, loss of reputation, loss of enjoyment of life, lost wages and benefits, and has incurred attorney’s fees and expenses and other serious damages.”
The complaint details repeated trips to a psychiatrist and medical professionals due to medical conditions she claims were onset by stress in her work environment.
Abbott is unemployed “despite her best efforts to find suitable alternative employment,” the complaint states.
An investigation of the district’s special education program was initiated in February after Abbott filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Education.
The investigation, which was initially expected to conclude in early April, is still ongoing due to extensions the district and MDE were both afforded, Landgaard said.