The Stow-Munroe Falls Board of Education is facing another lawsuit from a former employee of its treasurer’s office.
Former assistant treasurer Joanne Ostlund has sued former Board President Kelly Toppin and the board of education alleging "sexual harassment, retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress."
In her suit, Ostlund alleges Toppin "laid his hand and patted [Ostlund’s] backside with a full open hand" as she was exiting a restaurant booth while they were in Columbus in November 2018 for an Ohio School Boards Association Capital Conference.
She said she was "shocked and disgusted as a result of the unwanted touching and deeply concerned." At that time, Toppin was serving as president of the school board. Toppin did not run for re-election to his school board seat in November and unsuccessfully sought a seat on Stow City Council.
The complaint alleges that Ostlund reported the incident to her supervisor and others the next day and that other board members, administrators and the board’s legal counsel became aware of the incident but nothing was done "to remediate Toppin’s misconduct."
In May 2019, Ostlund’s three-year contract was placed on the board’s agenda for renewal but was "abruptly and without explanation" removed from the board’s agenda either by or at the direction of Toppin, the suit alleges.
She then was given a one-year administrative contract, which the complaint says represents "an adverse employment action."
In the suit, filed Friday in Summit County Common Pleas Court, Ostlund is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.
The complaint states that Ostlund has "suffered embarrassment, severe anxiety, serious emotional distress, depression, humiliation, insult, pain and suffering as well as lost compensation, lost future benefits, loss of earning capacity and other consequential damages." It further claims Ostlund has needed treatment by a mental health professional because of the defendants’ actions.
No court date has been set and a response from Toppin or the school board had not been filed as of Tuesday afternoon.
Toppin did not respond to a request for comment. An attorney for Toppin was not listed.
Ostlund’s attorney, Christine Faranda of Amer Cunningham Co. LPA, did not return a call seeking comment.
In a statement released on behalf of the board, President Pro Tempore Geraldine Bettio said the school board members "strongly dispute the allegations reflected in her court action.
"When Ms. Ostlund raised some concerns last spring, we met to discuss her issues and offered her the opportunity to initiate an internal inquiry, based upon the procedures in our board’s policies," the board statement continues. "She declined and told district officials, on numerous occasions, that she did not want to file a complaint. She was nevertheless urged to file a formal complaint with the district so any issues could be fully investigated and explained the process to her for doing so. No complaint was ever received by the district and thus we assumed she no longer wished to pursue any alleged claims."
The board’s attorney received a letter from Ostlund’s attorney Oct. 2 "containing allegations involving the board and a member of the board," according to the board statement.
The vague letter didn’t contain details about the allegations but demanded money from the board, as well as an extension of Ostlund’s employment agreement from one year to three, according to the board statement. When contacted, Ostlund’s attorney a "vague response" with "little or no detail," the board stated.
""The Stow-Munroe Falls Schools have clear-cut policies prohibiting the types of activity outlined in this complaint as well as precisely defined procedures for reporting violations of those policies – as does the state of Ohio," the board statement reads. "This suit appears to be an attempt to circumvent that process and does not serve the community well. We intend to strongly defend the board of education."
Ostlund joined the treasurer’s staff at the Cuyahoga Falls Schools on Jan. 1.
She was hired under a two-year contract, which ends July 31, 2022, by the Cuyahoga Falls School Board at the board’s Nov. 20 meeting. She will be paid $70,000 a year under the contract. Ostlund was paid $86,350 with the Stow-Munroe Falls schools. Ostlund’s resignation was accepted by the Stow-Munroe Falls School Board Nov. 22 in an emergency meeting.
Ostlund started with the Stow-Munroe Falls schools in February 2009 as the administrative assistant to the treasurer. In January 2018, she was promoted to assistant treasurer.
She rejoins her former colleague Kristy Stoicoiu, who became the treasurer of the Cuyahoga Falls City School this past August.
Stoicoiu had previously worked for the Stow-Munroe Falls schools; her contract as treasurer was non-renewed by the Stow-Munroe Falls district in early 2019. She initially filed seven claims against the Stow-Munroe Falls Board of Education in the Summit County Common Pleas Court. In July, a wrongful termination claim was dismissed but six others, including breach of contract, will go forward. A pretrial has been set for June 16 and a jury trial date is scheduled for July 13, before Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands.
Another former treasurer, Catherine Bulgrin, also filed legal action last March against the Stow-Munroe Falls School Board, alleging breach of contract.
Bulgrin, who worked as the district’s treasurer from 2011 to 2015, claimed the district owed her payment for accrued vacation and sick leave under a November 2015 voluntary resignation and settlement agreement.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Susan Baker Ross ruled in the district’s favor on Oct. 25. Bulgrin is appealing the decision.
Reporter April Helms contributed to this report.
Contact Marsha McKenna at 330-541-9430 or at firstname.lastname@example.org