Cafeteria worker sues city schools over suspension

She was accused and cleared in theft of money, according to lawsuit

August 02, 2010|By Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun

A former cafeteria manager at Frederick Douglass High School is suing the city school system for $300,000, saying that officials denied her due-process rights during an investigation into whether she and another employee had stolen funds from the school.

According to the attorney for Bessie Miller, a 12-year veteran of the system, school officials decided to suspend her without pay and threatened her with termination after a $995 discrepancy arose in the school cafeteria's deposits.

During the course of those allegations, school officials did not allow her to defend herself at any point in the investigation process, nor to clear her name after it was determined that she was not stealing from the school, said Miller's attorney, John H. Morris Jr..

The civil suit, filed last week, names as defendants city schools CEO Andrés Alonso; the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners; Kevin Seawright, chief assistant to the chief operating officer; and Jerome Jones, labor relations associate for the school system.

The school system declined to comment on the pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, in February of last year, Miller was called into a meeting where city school officials told her that she and another employee were under investigation for stealing the money. During the meeting, Miller was offered an opportunity to resign, which she declined.

"She didn't have an opportunity to defend her case," Morris said. "Then they proceeded under the presumption that she had done something wrong."

Two weeks later, Miller was suspended without pay, pending termination. Shortly after, the other employee accused of taking part in the alleged theft resigned, and Miller was found not to have been involved, Morris said.

After Miller was cleared, officials offered her a job, returning to the school system with a demotion from manager to cafeteria worker, which included a decline in pay grade and reduced hours, according to the lawsuit. The offer also included a waiver stipulating that Miller could not legally challenge the "assertion of wrongdoing by her," the lawsuit said.

Miller declined the offer and was forced to retire because of disability, the lawsuit said.

She is suing for $100,000 in compensation and $200,000 in punitive damages, in addition to legal fees, and an opportunity to restore her reputation.

"There was still a cloud that she was never able to clear," Morris said.

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