Fired Otwell principal files lawsuit

By CLAIRE MOORMAN
Herald Staff Writer

EVANSVILLE — Former Otwell Elementary School principal Rick Fears has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the Pike County School Corp. alleging that he was wrongfully terminated from his job.

Fears was fired by a unanimous vote of the board Sept. 3. A findings of fact document later released by the corporation showed that the main reason for his termination was neglect of duties related to failure to conduct teacher evaluations in a timely manner and an insubordinate attitude.

Fears had been employed with the corporation for 23 years and had been principal at the elementary school for seven. His most recent contract began in July 2012 and was set to expire in June 2014.

The suit, which was filed in Evansville by Fears and his attorney, Mark Phillips of Boonville, on Wednesday, lists three complaints against the corporation.

First, Fears is seeking a restraining order that would prevent the corporation from ending his contract before the date originally set in that contract. The complaint alleges that Fears will experience irreparable loss because of a lack of income and benefits as well as damage to his reputation if he is not reinstated to his position as principal. The lawsuit further states that during his time as principal, Fears helped lead the school to be honored as an Indiana Four Star School four times and a National Blue Ribbon School in 2011.

The second complaint states that the school district is guilty of a breach of contract by placing Fears on administrative leave on July 1 to begin consideration of his termination. (Jim Isaacs was named as the interim principal at Otwell Elementary during that time and will continue to serve until a permanent solution can be found.)
Finally, Fears and his attorney state that Fears face
d discrimination when he was “singled out” by the school board and “treated differently from other employees of the school corporation in retaliation for making oral statements concerning the functionality of the board’s plans in violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.” Fears alleges that he was held to different standards than other employees in the district and will suffer damage to his reputation as a result.

Fears is asking for the corporation to adequately compensate him for these alleged damages.

Val Fleig of Petersburg, attorney for the school board, said his client has not yet been notified of the litigation, but he expects that the corporation will have to respond to the complaint within 20 days after service. He declined to comment further about the complaint. School Superintendent Suzanne Blake was not available for comment this morning.

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.




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