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 amended the $1 million federal lawsuit against the Mount Vernon City School Board and various past and present school officials. The complaint for compensatory and punitive damages now lists Freshwater’s wife, Nancy, as a plaintiff.
The suit claims 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. It alleges Freshwater has been deprived of his constitutional rights, was discriminated against and suffered harassment.
The amended suit also adds a count, or claim, that the defendants — Ian Watson, Jody Goetzman, Steve Short, Lynda Weston, William White, H.R. on Call Inc., Thomas J. Herlevi, Julia F. Herlevi, John Does and Jane Does 1-8 — “placed Freshwater before the public in a false light” by making statements that would be and have been “highly offensive to a reasonable person.” The claim also alleges the defendants “were and are at fault and knew and were reckless to the falsehood of the statements made about Freshwater.”
The board has said its decision to terminate Freshwater’s contract was based on an investigative report by an independent firm, H.R. on Call, 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.
Another added count concerns “loss of consortium.”
The Freshwaters ask the court to order the school district to reinstate John as an eighth-grade science teacher; conduct educational training to promote equal employment opportunities for religious understanding and pay compensatory damages in the amount of $500,000. The suit also wants punitive damages from Watson, Goetzman, Short, Weston and White in the amount of $500,000, reimbursement of attorney fees and the removal of negative statements from John’s personnel file. The court is also asked to “enjoin the defendants from further retaliation against the plaintiff.”