COA affirms $388K verdict for Jackson educator

Royal Oak, Mich., July 14, 2020 –The Michigan Court of Appeals has affirmed a verdict awarding a Jackson Public Schools teacher $388,485 in damages related to an earlier claim made under the state’s Whistleblower’s Protection Act.

In October 2015, Jackson Public Schools teacher Pennie Davis filed a police report regarding a disruptive15-year-old male student who became angry in her Jackson High School classroom, then striking and injuring her hand. The teacher also secured a Personal Protection Order from the Jackson County Circuit Court. The student had shown signs of defiance in the class and Davis’ repeated efforts to obtain assistance went ignored.

After filing the police report, Davis was repeatedly questioned by district administrators regarding her injuries; issued a written reprimand to be placed in her file; placed on administrative leave with no justification; and unfairly docked two-days’ pay.

Upon her return to the classroom, Davis discovered that the student who had struck her and named in the PPO was being permitted to roam the halls of the high school unattended.

While Davis was able to work with the high school to arrange an agreeable plan to conform with the PPO, the Jackson Schools superintendent and assistant superintendent nonetheless decided to transfer Davis to the district’s middle school.

Explaining reasons for her move, the district’s assistant superintendent explained “We do not go to the police here ...”

Within 32 days of her transfer, Davis was labeled a failing teacher and placed on an Individual Development Plan. Davis was rated “ineffective” for that school year. The following year Davis was given a slightly improved evaluation indicating that she was a “minimally effective” teacher.
                                                                                             
These were the lowest evaluations of her career, evaluations which made her vulnerable in the event of a layoff.

Davis subsequently filed suit in Jackson County Circuit Court where a jury found that the Jackson Public Schools threatened and discriminated against Davis because she was engaged in protected activity. A jury awarded her $12,530 economic damages and $375,955 non-economic damages in March 2018.

“We’re pleased with the appellate court’s decision, as we felt it was quite clear from the beginning that Ms. Davis was verbally harassed, involuntarily transferred to another school and given poor evaluations all because they wanted to retaliate against her. This is illegal and the court has agreed with us twice,” said Megan Bonanni, of Pitt McGehee Palmer Bonanni & Rivers, who represented Davis.

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