DETROIT — A Detroit high school teacher who said she was fired for breaking up a fight with a broom — and then offered her job back — is too traumatized to return to class, according to her attorney.
The April 30 incident and its aftermath left 31-year-old Tiffani Eaton disabled, attorney Jim Rasor said. He said Eaton has filed a workers compensation claim and is seeking financial compensation from the Education Achievement Authority school district.
Meanwhile, a district spokesman said Wednesday that Eaton was never actually terminated.
“She’s still considered an EAA employee. … We want her to return to work,” spokesman Mario Morrow said.
A video of the fight between two boys in Eaton’s classroom at Pershing High School spread quickly online. It showed the boys throwing punches and collapsing onto the floor before Eaton struck one with a broom.
The next day, on May 1, an EAA official sent a letter telling Eaton that the district was recommending her termination to the district’s board. It also said her actions left “the district no choice but to terminate your employment effective immediately.”
The district later said Eaton could come back to work at any EAA school. But her doctors have advised otherwise, Rasor said.
“Mental health care professionals have restricted her from returning to work in that environment because it would exacerbate her acute stress disorder and potential post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said.
Rasor said that along with stress, Eaton has suffered a loss of privacy, dignity and the enjoyment she got from teaching.
The incident received national attention. In the days that followed, Eaton appeared in news reports and pledged not to return unless security was improved.
Morrow said the EAA sent Eaton three letters, the first on May 13, telling her she was being reinstated and would get retroactive pay. He said the second and third letters gave her a June 2 return date. They also laid out how the district was working to assess and improve security.
“We heard loud and clear during her press conferences that all she wanted to do was come back to work, and we’re trying to satisfy her wishes,” Morrow said.
Morrow said Eaton was put on leave May 29, after her attorney sent an email with a doctor’s note that said she couldn’t return June 2 but would be re-evaluated June 20. Her leave is unpaid, he said. The workers comp claim followed.
Morrow said Eaton was never fired because the district’s board never voted to do so. It did, however, vote to reinstate her at its June 17 meeting, following the recommendation of the district’s general counsel. The meeting was the board’s first since the fight at Pershing. Morrow said the action was a matter of procedure.
Rasor, who thinks Eaton was clearly fired, said the district failed to provide a safe environment. Eaton is weighing her legal options, he said. He also said, “We are pursuing negotiations with the EAA for compensation.”
Morrow said the district hasn’t talked with Eaton or her attorney about financial matters, “other than her returning to work and receiving her retroactive pay.” He declined to comment on Rasor’s assertion that Eaton is disabled.