Lawsuit filed in Lyons SD 103
Molina charges union head Jackman with defamation
By Steve Metsch
Al Molina, the soon-to-be former principal of Robinson School in Lyons, has filed in Cook County Circuit Court a defamation of character lawsuit against teacher union president Toni Jackman, seeking at least $800,000 in damages.
In the lawsuit, Molina charges Jackman with defaming his character in an attempt to rally teachers against him.
After a vote of no-support from the teachers earlier this year, Molina did wind up losing his job with the School District 103 board voting 4-3 to not renew his contract. Molina had been principal at Robinson for 14 of his 20 years in the district.
Sources have said that Jackman is a candidate for the job of principal at Robinson School.
According to the lawsuit, Jackman “has made many misrepresentations to destroy (Molina’s) reputation” and “has gone out of her way to make the workplace hostile to (Molina), using lies to destroy goodwill between him and his staff.
Molina’s attorney, Celeste Ntuen, said that “defamation is more than just saying something that is untrue. It hurts someone in a very personal and a very public way … Defamation encompasses something that can harm a person’s reputation or is private.
Two messages left Monday on Jackman’s cell phone were not returned.
“The motivation is to protect your name against false attacks, and I think right now the record is pretty clear about it,” Ntuen added.
Toni Jackman, right, president of the teacher union in Lyons School District 103, has been charged with defamation of character. Al Molino, the soon-to-be former principal of Robinson School, filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court recently. Photo by Steve Metsch.
The lawsuit says Jackman, on Feb. 15, sent a letter to all the members of the teacher union criticizing Molina’s career as principal of Robinson.
“The message was sent to the teachers’ personal e-mail and the contents were intended to destroy his reputation, as reported to Mr. Molina by several teachers,” the lawsuit states, adding “students and staff are not safe to be around him.”
Molina, the lawsuit states has “never been disciplined for any inappropriate behavior” and “received three consecutive performance evaluation ratings of ‘excellent’.”
The lawsuit also states that Jackman, at board meetings on Feb. 25 and March 11, addressed the board and repeated her claim that “it was not safe for children to be around” Molina. However, she did not provide any supporting facts, the lawsuit states.
At that March 11 meeting, the board voted 4-3 to not renew Molina’s contract.
During that meeting, now former board member Thomas Weiner said that negative comments by Robinson teacher Geoff Needleman about Molina led to his voting to not renew the contract, the lawsuit states.
All the turmoil, the lawsuit states, has led to Molina suffering from anxiety and he is now on medication for high blood pressure. Losing his job as principal and likely returning to teaching means he will lose an estimated $40,000 per year in salary, the suit states.
“Making a public statement which is false and damages a person’s reputation is not only wrong, it’s unlawful,” Ntuen said.
Former interim superintendent Patrick Patt is mentioned several times in the lawsuit. But Patt is not a defendant.
“You may see some things that may have happened which may curdle your blood a bit,” Ntuen said. The suit says Molina “had to endure constant bullying, disparate treatment and harassment” from Patt.
Molina said he did not press charges against the former interim Supt. Patt.
“I’m targeting Toni because she obviously violated board policy by doing what she did. Patrick Patt did things behind the scenes,” Molina said.
Asked if Jackman was drumming up opposition to Molina by sending the letter and meeting with teachers, Ntuen said, “it appears that way.”
Ntuen said she had heard that Jackman is a candidate for Molina’s old job. The board made no principal hires at its meeting Tuesday night.
Ntuen said: “If this was a motivation for making false or in some circles publicly humiliating statements against Mr. Molina, that would be quite unfortunate, not only in attempting to take that position but also in what looks like an attempt to remove someone in order to achieve that goal.”
Molina said he has a copy of the e-mail Jackman sent out to all the teachers in the district, slamming my name, to their private e-mail,” Molina said.
That letter, he said, “led to the board voting against me and now, conveniently, she is interviewing for my position with her friends on the committee (interviewing candidates). This e-mail was given to me by people who are very upset with what she did.”
The lawsuit seeks attorney’s fees and punitive damages in excess of $300,000; compensatory damages in an amount in excess of $500,000, and for exemplary damages in an amount that will serve to punish and deter the defendant from similar conduct.