By Jim Hagerty
Rockford Public School District 205 has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit involving a high school principal and former teacher.
According to the suit brought against the district in November 2010, former Jefferson High School teacher Anna Johnson alleged she was sexually harassed and retaliated against. Johnson claimed the retaliation occurred after she reported the harassment and a sexual relationship she had with Principal Donald Rundall.
The suit was settled out of court Tuesday, Feb. 25.
In May 2009, approximately five years after she was hired by the district, Johnson began a consensual sexual relationship with Rundall—her direct supervisor. A non-tenured special education teacher, Johnson claimed she was advised by Rundall that she’d have a job as long as the relationship continued.
When she ended it with Rundall in 2010, the suit alleges Johnson was told she would remain employed if she kept the relationship quiet.
“Principal Rundall made it clear to Ms. Johnson, both explicitly and implicitly, that submission to his sexual advances and beginning a sexual relationship was a term or condition of her employment,” the initial complaint reads. “In addition, Principal Rundall made it clear to Ms. Johnson that her submission or rejection of his sexual advances would be used as the basis for employment decisions affecting Ms. Johnson.”
In February 2010, Johnson discussed her allegations against Rundall with Shantina Davenport, then an assistant to CFO Cedric Lewis. A month later, Johnson was dismissed when the district fired all non-tenured teachers at the direction of former Superintendent Dr. LaVonne Sheffield.
After the district gave principals authority to rehire non-tenured teachers for the 2010-2011 school year, Johnson was eligible for another job. That was until district leaders learned of her prior relationship with Rundall, Johnson claimed.
“On or about May 17, 2010, Ms. Johnson was called into a meeting with Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield, defendant’s attorney, Lori Hoadley, and Ms. Davenport to discuss her relationship with Principal Rundall,” said the complaint. “Prior to the meeting with Superintendent Sheffield, Attorney Hoadley, and Ms. Davenport, Rundall called Ms. Johnson into his office.
“Rundall threatened Ms. Johnson that she would not be rehired if she disclosed the relationship (to) Superintendent Sheffield and if she did not begin a sexual relationship with him.”
Johnson was placed on leave following the May 17 meeting with Sheffield. Her employment was terminated June 4, 2010. She was not rehired at Jefferson or any other District 205 school. Rundall remains the Jefferson High School principal. He received a Golden Apple award in 2013.
While the amount sought in the case is unknown, Johnson was seeking compensatory and consequential damages for loss of wages, punitive damages and legal fees.
The school board approved the settlement at Tuesday’s meeting. The amount has not been disclosed.
The settlement was reached after the case was reviewed by U.S. District Judge Philip G. Reinhard, who ruled there was enough evidence for trial.
According to Reinhard’s order and statement-opinion dated Jan. 16, 2014, Johnson was not rehired for during the 2010-2011 school year in retaliation for her complaint against Rundall. Reinhard also stated Johnson had been sexually harassed.
Johnson is represented by Rockford Attorneys Timothy Horning and Nicholas Meyer. Michael Iasparro, of Hinshaw & Culbertson, represents District 205.
Because a settlement has been reached, a March 10 settlement conference has been cancelled.
Rundall was unavailable for comment as of this report.