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posted: 4/1/2013 7:00 PM

U-46 teacher alleges 'retaliation' in suit

St. Charles man claims officials violated Illinois Whistleblower Act

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A math teacher has sued Elgin Area School District U-46, claiming he was retaliated against for blowing the whistle on a co-worker's criminal past.

Robert Smith, a teacher since 2008 and a St. Charles resident, argues the district ignored his concerns and embellished charges that he had a physical altercation with a student, leading to a 10-day, unpaid suspension that ended March 18, according to the lawsuit filed in Kane County late last month.

Attorneys briefly met in court Monday and are due in court to argue the case before Kane County Judge Leonard Wojtecki on April 26.

"After initially choosing to ignore Mr. Smith at first, the district has subsequently engaged in a systematic campaign of retaliation in violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act," attorney Christopher Griesmeyer wrote in the lawsuit.

In the suit, Smith argues that while teaching a math class at Gifford School, a school for at-risk students, some students found a police mug shot of another teacher on the Internet during a computer lab session in October. Smith told the school principal about his concerns and later took his complaint up the chain of command to the superintendent, but with no results, the suit states.

According to court records, the teacher, a 45-year-old Elgin man, was charged in April 2012 with trying to use more than $300 worth of duplicated coupons in $10 and $20 denominations at the Meijer in St. Charles. The man pleaded guilty in October 2012, was fined $2,315, given a year of probation and credit for seven days spent in jail. He was banned from the store, records show.

U-46 spokesman Patrick Mogge said he could not comment on personnel matters.

The school board voted to suspend Smith after a Feb. 4 altercation was captured on security video between Smith and another student at Gifford. In the suit, Smith argues he restrained the other student by putting him in a headlock after the student pushed Smith and tried to leave the school cafeteria.

Scott Cruz, an attorney for U-46, argued that Smith should have taken the complaint to the teachers union and requested arbitration; that it was not a whistle-blower's case because Smith didn't take his complaints to authorities such as police; and an injunction was not warranted because Smith's claims were "unsupported conjecture" and "speculation."

"This is NOT a whistle-blower case," wrote Cruz in court papers, adding Smith was trying to escape disciplinary action for "his brutal assault and unjustifiable use of excessive force."

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