Lincolnwood District 74 slapped with new lawsuit
Updated: September 3, 2012 6:12AM
LINCOLNWOOD — Less than a month after reaching an agreement in a lawsuit filed by residents concerned with its financial doings, Lincolnwood School District 74 has found itself in yet another legal dispute, this time with a former top employee.
Kevin Nohelty is suing the embattled school district on the basis that he was wrongfully terminated June 12 from his post as assistant superintendent of business.
The lawsuit, which was filed July 17 in Illinois Northern District Court, alleged a “new political majority” fired Nohelty out of “retaliation” in a manner he claimed was “predetermined,” “extreme” and “outrageous,” causing him “severe emotional distress.”
Nohelty seeks $250,000 plus legal fees.
Named along with the district as defendants were School Board President Scott Anderson and board members Kevin Daly, Georjean Hlepas-Nickell and John Vranas, who are being sued in both their official and individual capacities.
“I’m not surprised,” Anderson said of the lawsuit. “It’s a frequent thing for disgruntled employees to sue.”
Nohelty, who became a target of public scrutiny over the district’s handling of financial recording keeping and requests for public documents, had been placed on paid administrative leave in mid-March.
“No allegations or charges of any kind were filed or mentioned at that time,” Nohelty’s complaint states.
In that same month Lincolnwood saw the resignation and retirement of former Superintendent Mark Klaisner and former Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Susan Brandt, respectively, following voters’ landslide defeat of a multimillion dollar referendum to tear down and build a new school.
Anderson said the time line of events as referenced in the lawsuit does not support the former administrator’s theory that the four board members who approved the firing had conspired against him all along.
Daly and Vranas weren’t sworn in until March and May, respectively, and former board president Amy Frankel served in a leadership capacity until April 9.
“It makes for a sexy story but it’s false,” Anderson said.
According to the complaint, a new political majority on the School Board – a result of the resignation of several board members – had asked the three-person administrative team on March 9 to resign.
“Klaisner agreed to submit his resignation and Brandt opted to retire under pressure. Nohelty declined because he believed that his job performance was appropriate,” the complaint claims.
The document continues to state that Nohelty received a letter May 29 from interim Superintendent Kenneth Cull requesting a meeting for the sole purpose of serving a “bill of particulars justifying your dismissal.”
Nohelty and his attorney met with Cull and received the bill May 31. The bill was amended and served June 8.
Then, on June 12, the School Board held a special meeting, which began at 4:30 p.m. and ran until 2:30 a.m. the next morning, that resulted in Nohelty’s termination by a 4–0 vote.
Board Vice President/Secretary Darlene Fourkas and members Michael Davros and David Koder were absent.
Nohelty claims the process for his dismissal was unjust.
“The defendants denied Nohelty of a fair hearing on the charges because they had already decided to find him guilty of the charges and to terminate his employment immediately and prospectively before they actually heard a testimony and/or received any evidence,” the complaint states.
Anderson, who is an attorney, refuted the claims, saying: “The concept of law is a notice of charges and an opportunity to be heard, and he had both of those.”
Anderson could not specifically say what the two parties discussed during the closed session other than to confirm that Nohelty had legal counsel present and was allowed to call witnesses and present his case.
“It is insulting to those people who sat there in that meeting and made an evaluation and made a decision,” Anderson said. “Unfortunately, anyone can make allegations and sue.”
A Freedom of Information Act request from the Lincolnwood Review to the district for documents pertaining to Nohelty’s leave of absence and termination was denied pursuant to an exemption for employee grievances and disciplinary cases.
The district did, however, produce information on salary and benefits paid to Nohelty between March 1 and June 17, the date the FOIA request was filed.
During the three-and-a-half month time period, Nohelty earned $49,072, which included payments to a retirement account, and was covered under the district’s health insurance plan.
Nohelty’s dismissal cost District 74 an additional $83,312.50 in legal fees, according to public documents listing payments in May and June to the law offices of Peter Stamatis, the firm that prosecuted the termination.
Anderson said he stands by the board’s decision to dismiss the last administrator of the district’s former triumvirate.
“The truth of the matter is, even after reading the lawsuit, it doesn’t change my view that we made the right decision,” Anderson said. “In that sense, it’s no more than a distraction.”
He added: “We’re continuing to do the business that we have to do.”
According to the complaint, Nohelty is represented by longtime school law attorney Steven Glink, who specializes in juvenile defense and school staff rights.