A white school administrator is suing a Michigan school district after being placed on administrative leave for what she says is a pattern of racial discrimination against white employees.
Shannon M. Blick, who has been the principal at Lawton Elementary School in Ann Arbor, was placed on paid leave in April under mysterious circumstances, the lawsuit claims.
Blick has been employed as the school’s principal since 2013 and has a spotless employment record with no warnings, discipline, suspensions or write-ups, according to the lawsuit. She said she was put on leave because the school’s assistant principal, who is black, wanted her job. Blick is asking for $5 million in damages.
The trouble appears to have started in April when another elementary school principal in the district, Mike Madison, who is black, told Blick that she needed to go on medical leave until the end of the school year and lay low as an assistant principal at a middle school “until the dust settles.”
According to the complaint, a custodian at the school had been found to have stolen $25,000 over four years, and Madison told Blick that she was somehow implicated.
“They have something on you,” Blick was told, according to the lawsuit. Madison did not immediately return a request for comment sent to his school email address.
About a week-and-a-half later, Blick was given a letter by an executive in the Ann Arbor School District that informed her that she was being placed on paid administrative leave, effective immediately, and that the action prohibited her from entering any school buildings or talking to students, parents or other staff about any issues. No reason for the decision was given in a copy of the letter’s text included in the lawsuit.
Blick claims that Madison told her the next day that an internal investigation had found her responsible for the custodian’s purported theft. A few days later, Madison encouraged her to resign “to stop their investigation of the allegations you are facing,” according to the reproduction of a text message in the complaint.
“Thus it looks like it might be better if you spend this time on Administrative Leave to look for administrative or teaching jobs outside of Ann Arbor,” he wrote, according to the lawsuit. “It appears HRS has a strong case against you for termination. If that happens, you won’t get any administrative or teaching job anywhere in Michigan and criminal charges could also occur.”
An Ann Arbor police spokeswoman did not return an immediate request for information about whether there were any criminal investigations at the school. A spokesman told MLive on Monday that it had no reports about overbilling at the school.
On April 30, Blick lost access to her email. The district announced in an email sent to the public that Blick was on a leave of absence for an undetermined length.
“During this time, she asks that you please respect her privacy,” it said. Blick says that she never gave the school district permission to speak on her behalf.
She met with administrators on May 7. At one meeting, the lawsuit says, she was “slandered and defamed” by an administrator who made “outrageous, humiliating, inhumane and patently false accusations regarding Ms. Blick’s conduct, purportedly on and off work premises.”
Blick’s lawyer, William G. Tishkoff, declined to give more details about what Blick was told at this meeting, and he said that Blick was declining all interview requests.
Blick also says in the lawsuit that another administrator warned her about a group of parents planning to voice their support for her at an upcoming meeting, and threatened that a reporter for a local news outlet would file a records request for her personnel file, which would be damaging to her. The administrator asked Blick to contact the parents who planned to show up and ask them not to come; Blick complied, the lawsuit states.
Blick claims that this all amounted to a pattern of “hostile, harsh and demeaning conducted directed at her because she is Caucasian,” and that she was retaliated against for opposing administrators’ “maintenance of their racial animus toward, and racial discrimination against, Caucasian and nonminority administrators.”
Her paid leave was the result of a conspiracy inspired by racial animus, the lawsuit states.
Will Cluley, a spokesman for the school district, declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. He said the district had not been served with a copy of the complaint.
Blick is still listed as the school’s principal on its website.
Maureen Westfall, a parent with two children at the school last year who was recently named head of its parent-teacher organization, said that Blick had gone on leave for medical issues previously but that the community had been caught off-guard by the mysterious announcement about her leave this time.
She said the parents had little information about why Blick had been removed — or who would be principal next year.
“She has had such a strong, positive influence on the Lawton community as a whole. Her knowledge base regarding special education and literacy has been very instrumental with children with learning disabilities, my two children included,” Westfall said. “A lot of these parents want the superintendent to give us some guidance about what to expect. We want to know who is going to be overseeing our children’s education for the coming year.”