MOUNT VERNON — John Freshwater, the Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher who was suspended by the school board in 2008 for alleged professional misconduct, has filed a federal suit against the Mount Vernon City School Board and various past and present school officials.
Those named in the suit in their individual capacity as well as their involvement with Mount Vernon city schools are Ian Watson, Jody Goetzman, Steve Short, Lynda Weston and William White. Other defendants include H.R. on Call Inc., Thomas J. Herlevi, Julia F. Herlevi, John Does and Jane Does 1-8.
The suit claims that Freshwater was discriminated against because of personal religious beliefs and maintains the board took action to terminate Freshwater’s teaching contract simply because he kept a Bible on his desk.
The board has said its decision was based on an investigative report by an independent firm which concluded that Freshwater caused physical harm to a student during a science experiment, overstepped his bounds as a monitor of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, promoted particular religious beliefs in the classroom while denigrating others and was insubordinate in refusing to follow directives from school administrators. A public hearing requested by Freshwater to contest his contract termination has been sporadically under way since fall of 2008.
The federal lawsuit filed on Freshwater’s behalf disputes the board’s allegations and claims Freshwater has been deprived of his constitutional rights, was discriminated against and suffered harassment.
Sixteen separate counts are filed in latest lawsuit claiming Freshwater was:
•Deprived of his right to free speech, free association and exercise of religion;
•Deprived of equal protection;
•Denied due process;
•Discriminated against because of his religion;
•Retaliated against because he questioned the board’s policy regarding placement of personal Bibles and made public statement against the policy;
•Harassed at work based on the perception of his religious beliefs. He further claims the harassment caused him to “suffer embarrassment, emotional distress, humiliation and mental anguish.”
•Forced to work in a hostile work environment;
•A victim of violations of Ohio Public Policy from which he continues to suffer economically as well as emotionally;
•A victim of breach of contract, defamation and civil conspiracy by the defendants of the lawsuit;
•Made to answer or defend matters resolved by previous members of the board of education;
The suit further accuses the school board “negligently retained Defendants Short, Weston and White, among others ... performed with gross incompetence and malicious intent.”
In his suit, Freshwater wants the school to reinstate him as an eighth grade science teacher, conduct educational training to promote equal employment opportunities for religious understanding, pay compensatory damages in the amount of $500,000, punitive damages from Watson, Geotzman, Short, Weston and White for $500,000, attorney fees, remove negative marks from his personnel file and prohibit any further retaliation.
As of Wednesday morning, Mount Vernon City School Superintendent Steve Short had not seen the court document and therefore had no comment on the document itself.
“We’re in a middle of a hearing,” he continued, “and I feel it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.”
The Freshwater termination hearing has scheduled dates of June 18 and 19.