Ex-Down East principal sues over job removal

Posted March 13, 2009, at 10:37 p.m.

MACHIASPORT, Maine — A former elementary school principal has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking compensation after she was removed from her position at the Fort O’Brien School.

Pat Godin of Trescott filed the suit in U.S. District Court last week. The suit claims that the Machiasport school department board of directors violated her constitutional due process rights when the board removed her from her position as principal and that the board breached the contract it had with her.

The suit also claims that three area residents — Joleen Nicely and Patty Schencks, both of Machiasport, and Donna Metta of East Machias — interfered with Godin’s contractual relationship with the board and that statements the three women made about Godin were false and defamatory.

Godin is seeking general compensatory damages, back pay and front pay, the value of unpaid benefits, punitive damages, interest and attorney’s fees.

Melissa Hewey, an attorney with Drummond Woodsum who represents the school department, said Thursday that there is no merit to the suit.

“When our side comes out, it will be clear that the school department treated Ms. Godin fairly and responsibly and that it did not violate her contract or the Constitution.”

Nicely declined to comment on the suit. Schencks and Metta could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit stems from Godin’s removal as principal last summer. According to the documents filed in federal court, Godin was hired in 2006 as a half-time principal at the Fort O’Brien School. There were unspecified complaints about her performance during the winter of 2007, but the suit states they were found to be baseless.

The board rehired Godin on a two-year contract and increased the position to three-quarter time as principal and one-quarter as a teacher for gifted and talented students, and approved a three-year extension through 2011.

The suit notes that on March 4, 2008, the school board began considering a reduction in force of school employees, but did not discuss Godin’s position. Between March and April, the suit states, there were private meetings of parents and concerned citizens seeking to “attack” Godin’s continued employment.

The suit claims that defendants Nicely, Schencks and Metta made public “false and defamatory statements” designed to garner public support for demanding Godin’s removal as teaching principal. The statements included claims that Godin had physically abused at least two students at the school.

According to the suit documents, the school board heard those charges against Godin in an executive session held during a budget workshop on April 8, 2008. The suit claims that Nicely repeated false statements to the school board at that meeting, and that Schencks and Metta repeated their false statements to the crowd outside.

Based on those charges, Superintendent May Bouchard placed Godin on administrative leave pending an investigation. The suit notes that Godin was exonerated of all allegations of abuse.

The suit further states that on June 8, 2008, “after public outcry against [Godin’s] exoneration,” Bouchard informed Godin by letter that her teaching position contract would be terminated because of the reduction in force at the school. Godin was not given prior notice, nor was she given the opportunity to be heard regarding the termination of her contract.

The suit states that Godin was replaced by another teaching principal on Aug. 12.

The suit also claims that Nicely, Schencks and Metta continue to publish false and defamatory statements about Godin through letters to the editor submitted under assumed names.

None of the defendants has yet filed a response to the suit.

rhewitt@bangordailynews.net

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