Webbert – Settlement of Brunswick School Bullying Case is a Good Thing for the Whole State

Brunswick settles lawsuit over former student who says he was assaulted in school bathroom

Read the entire article here at the Bangor Daily News.

The Brunswick School Department must revamp its approach to bullying significantly as part of an out-of-court settlement with the family of a former student who alleges he was sexually assaulted at Brunswick Junior High School.

The school system also will make a cash payment to the former student’s family as part of an agreement to settle the federal lawsuit filed by the Maine Human Rights Commission and the family of the former student that accused the town, the school district and the junior high principal of violating the student’s civil rights when he was student there.

The suit alleged that while the boy was a student at the school from 2010 to 2012, he was bullied, physically assaulted and sexually assaulted several times. It also alleged that the administration failed to protect him — a claim the MHRC investigator and an independent agency evaluator found strong evidence to support.

On Oct. 26, the Brunswick School Board voted unanimously to “contribute up to $25,000 to the settlement amount,” but attorneys for the MHRC, the boy’s family, attorneys and school officials have all declined to disclose the total settlement amount until a federal judge approves the agreement.

On Monday, however, Augusta attorney David Webbert, who represents the former student’s family identified in court documents only as Jack Doe, and Amy Sneirson, executive director of the Maine Human Rights Commission, both said that the steps the school system must take to address bullying far outweigh the cash value of the settlement.

Among those steps, the school department is required for this year and next to develop and maintain a computerized system to track allegations of bullying. The system must be searchable by word, Sneirson said, “so that if a student alleges bullying by more than one student, it’s a way for someone to find out if one student is causing a problem in more than one place, or there’s more than one victim. It’s even possible they could figure out which things are happening in unmonitored spaces like bathrooms, stairwells or buses.”

The latter possibility is particularly relevant in the current lawsuit, in which the student alleged he had been sexually assaulted three times in junior high school bathrooms.

Sneirson said attorneys for the school department will be required to send proof they are complying with the terms to attorneys for the plaintiff.

The school must also create a gay-straight alliance and provide annual, in-person training of junior high school staff about bullying and sex stereotyping.

Sneirson said she is not aware of any other schools with similar databases, nor is she aware of any other court case regarding bullying based on a protected class status that the MHRC has been a party to.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in July 2015, alleged “Jack Doe” was 11 years old “when the severe abuse of him at school began and his educational environment became hostile.”

According to the 30-page complaint, over a period of 2½ years “a group of sexually aggressive and violent male students” harassed the student, called him “gay,” subjected him to several “gay tests,” struck him with a lacrosse stick, stabbed him with a pencil, sexually assaulted him on three separate occasions, then threatened him and his family if he told anyone about the assaults.

Allegations that the boy had been sexually assaulted by other students were investigated by the Brunswick police and forwarded to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office, Brunswick police Cmdr. Mark Waltz said in June 2014.

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But a child abuse evaluation by an independent agency concluded “there is strong evidence that [Jack Doe] has been sexually abused,” the lawsuit contends.

The suit specifically alleged that Brunswick Junior High School Principal Walter Wallace, who in 2015 named Principal of the Year by the Maine Principals’ Association, failed to respond adequately to the student’s repeated complaints and acted “with actual malice and reckless indifference to the federally protected civil rights of Jane Doe and her child.”

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The Maine Human Rights Commission disagreed and sought compensatory and punitive damages, as well as — among other new policies — increased training and monitoring policies and practices, a designated on-call counselor to assist victims of sexual harassment or violence during school hours and a review of Brunswick police records for the past five years for “any complaint of sexual assault that was treated as an exclusively criminal matter.”

“We really thought hard about what will help in a school that has seemingly very good policies in place, which Brunswick did,” Snierson said. “[We thought], ‘How can we foster more hands-on practical improvements of tracking bullying issues.’”

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“Certainly, every school board member is allowed to have an opinion,” she said. “We thought everyone was in agreement that this was a good resolution of the case.”

She added that the Maine Human Rights Commission “will be keeping track just to make sure the things that are supposed to happen in terms of the public interest do happen.”

“The settlement is a good thing — a good thing not just for Brunswick but for the whole state,” Webbert said. “It was a learning process for how to do things better for the kids. Really the agenda here should be protecting our students and helping them reach their full potential, and bullying certainly gets in the way of that.”

Eves’ lawyer, Webbert, renews LePage ‘blackmail’ charge in appeals court

Read the entire story here at the Bangor Daily News.

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The court battle between Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves advanced Wednesday with oral arguments in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston.

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At issue is how LePage forced Good Will-Hinckley, an organization that among other things runs a public charter school in Fairfield, to rescind an employment contract with Eves or face the loss of some $500,000 in annual state funding.

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Eves’ attorney David Webbert said there were indications from the panel of three appeals court judges that there is some merit in Eves’ arguments, particularly on whether LePage had the right to use public funds as a threat and whether LePage discriminated against all Democratic lawmakers, and particularly Eves.

“This case is about one thing: protecting Maine citizens and private organizations from being blackmailed, threatened and intimidated by a politician willing to abuse government power for partisan reasons,” said Webbert in a written statement.

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Eve’s lawsuit aims to protect Mainers from being “blackmailed, threatened, and intimidated by a politician willing to abuse government power for partisan reasons,” said Webbert

Read the entire story here at the Maine Sun Journal.

1st Circuit considers Mark Eves’ lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage

(AP) — The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing in on a request to reinstate a lawsuit accusing Maine Gov. Paul LePage of abuse of power and blackmail.

Lawyers for Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves and the Republican governor delivered arguments Wednesday. Now the three-judge panel in Boston will decide whether to overturn a decision by a federal judge in Maine to dismiss the lawsuit.

Eves’ lawsuit accuses LePage of using blackmail to force a charter school operator to rescind a job offer to him, and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

His lawyer, David Webbert, said the lawsuit aims to protect Mainers from being “blackmailed, threatened, and intimidated by a politician willing to abuse government power for partisan reasons.”

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Webbert, Eve’s attorney, said the court appeared to recognize that a governor’s threats could endanger the private lives of citizen legislators.

Read the entire story here at mainepublic.org

1st Circuit Considers Appeal in Lawsuit Against LePage

The attorney for Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves attempted to revive a lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday.

A three-judge panel heard arguments from attorneys representing Eves and the governor during a brief hearing in Boston. The panel will decide whether to overturn a decision by a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit.

David Webbert, Eves’ attorney, is trying to convince the panel that LePage acted illegally when he threatened to withhold over $1 million in state funding to a private nonprofit unless the organization fired Eves as its president. Good Will-Hinckley, the nonprofit, eventually withdrew its offer to Eves.

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Webbert says the judge erred when he ruled that judicial courts were not appropriate to resolve political disputes. In a statement, he said he remained confident the panel would rule in his favor based on reactions to his arguments yesterday. He said the court appeared to recognize that a governor’s threats could endanger the private lives of citizen legislators.

 

 

Webbert is confident in his appeal of Eves v LePage – “our politicians are not above the law.”

Read the entire story here at the Portland Press Herald.

Attorneys for House Speaker Mark Eves asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn an earlier decision to dismiss Eves’ lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage.

David Webbert said in a statement after the hearing that he was confident in his appeal and said “both the U.S. and Maine constitutions make it clear that our politicians are not above the law.”

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Eves, the Democratic leader from North Berwick, sued the Republican governor last summer, alleging that LePage abused his power by threatening to withhold state funding if an educational institution in central Maine moved forward with hiring Eves to be its president.

The board of Good Will-Hinckley school in Fairfield did ultimately rescind its offer to Eves, citing the governor’s threats as one of the main reasons.

Eves argued that the governor used his executive power to intercede into his private life for political retribution.

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On Wednesday, each side addressed a three-judge panel seated in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, which will issue a written ruling on the case at a later date. If the case is overturned on appeal, it would be sent back to Maine to be tried.

Webbert said the appellate judges asked several questions that gave him confidence the case may be sent back for a trial.

“The Court recognized that Maine has a ‘citizen legislature” and that the need of Maine Legislators to make a living makes them vulnerable to threats by a Governor to punish them in their ‘private life,’” the attorney said in a statement.

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The dispute began on June 5, 2015, the day Eves signed a two-year employment contract with the school.

On that day, LePage phoned the then-interim president of the school, Richard Abramson, and expressed his extreme displeasure about Eves’ selection. The governor also sent a handwritten note to the chairman of the school’s board of directors, called Eves a “hack” and made it clear that the school would lose the $1.06 million in discretionary funding that it expected to receive in the upcoming two-year budget cycle.

The dispute arose as the Legislature worked to finalize the state’s budget and marked a particularly frigid moment between legislators and LePage, who vowed to veto every bill sponsored by a Democrat because members of the House did not address his policy priorities.

The Good Will-Hinckley board rescinded its offer to hire Eves as its president on June 24. LePage admitted to reporters that he threatened to choke off funding. Eves filed suit the next month.

Eves accused the governor of using taxpayer money and the power of his office to prevent his hiring by Good Will-Hinckley, and contended that LePage’s actions violated several of Eves’ constitutional rights, including his First Amendment rights of free speech, free association and political affiliation, as well as his 14th Amendment right to due process.

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Webbert is asking the appeal court to void Judge Singal’s ruling in Mark Eves’ case against Governor LePage

Read the entire article here at MPBN.

Mark Eves Appeals, Citing LePage’s “Extreme View of Gubernatorial Power”

The attorney for House Speaker Mark Eves is seeking an injunction against Gov. Paul LePaage, in Eves’ appeal filed Wednesday with the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

The brief is an attempt to force the U.S. District Court to reconsider Eves’ argument that the governor acted illegally when he threatened to withhold over $1 million in state funding to a private nonprofit unless the organization fired Eves as its president.

In May, District Court Judge George Singal dismissed Eves’ case, saying, in essence, that the governor’s actions in the Good Will-Hinckley controversy were protected by the so-called immunity clause. That’s the legal concept that essentially protects elected officials from civil lawsuits.

But David Webbert, Eves’ attorney, now argues that Singal erred when he ruled that judicial courts were not appropriate to resolve political disputes. Webbert, in a 131-page brief, wrote that federal courts have upheld civil rights lawsuits between political opponents.

Webbert is essentially asking the appeal court to void Singal’s ruling and provide the legal framework to consider the case. In doing so, Webbert is focusing on a ruling that would “prevent LePage’s extreme view of gubernatorial power from becoming accepted as the norm in Maine politics.”

A response brief from LePage is expected in about a month. Oral arguments before a three-judge panel could take place this fall.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected. Eves is not dropping his pursuit for monetary damages against LePage.

Webbert says lawsuit most effective way to protect the people of a State from a Governor’s abuses of power

Read the full story here in the Portland Press Herald.

Gov. Paul LePage doesn’t understand how the state government’s system of check and balances works and is wrong to assert that his election to office gives him the right to use public money to “punish his political opponents,” according to a legal brief filed this week by an attorney for House Speaker Mark Eves.

The 24-page brief, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court by attorney David Webbert, was an objection to LePage’s motion in January to have a lawsuit brought against him by Eves dismissed.

The lawsuit accuses LePage of using taxpayer money and the power of his office to prevent Eves’ hiring as president of Good Will-Hinckley, a nonprofit in Fairfield that operates a charter school partly funded by the state.

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The brief filed by Webbert Tuesday said that LePage “misunderstands the applicable law and the role of the judiciary” when he contends that a suit filed by a political opponent does not belong in court. The brief mentions several civil rights suits stemming from political disputes, including one that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“A federal civil rights lawsuit like this one is well established in our legal system as one of the most effective ways to protect the people of a State from a Governor’s abuses of power,” Webbert wrote.

Webbert concluded the brief by asking the court to deny LePage’s motion to dismiss. Webbert said that a written reply to his objection is due in court March 1.

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Webbert says, “This case transcends Mark Eves. It really is an important case for all of Maine.”

Read the full story here at the Portland Press Herald.

House Speaker Mark Eves filed an amended lawsuit Friday against Gov. Paul LePage, further accusing the chief executive of violating his rights in the Good Will-Hinckley school hiring controversy.

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Eves’ attorney, David Webbert, said he expects from his prior discussion with LePage’s attorney in the case, Patrick Strawbridge, that the governor will first file a motion to dismiss one or both counts in the lawsuit before answering the individual factual claims in the complaint.

“It is a little different from the first one because we know the facts better,” Webbert said. “It is pretty much the governor’s own words. The case pretty much stands on his own statements.”

Webbert said that if LePage files a motion or motions to dismiss, that almost guarantees the case couldn’t reach trial before 2017.

“If he wants it to go quickly, he would file an answer. If he wants it done in 2016, that’s what he would do. The federal courts in Maine move pretty quickly,” Webbert said.

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Webbert said he took extra lengths in the amended complaint to explain why he feels federal court is the proper venue to settle Eves’ dispute with the governor. The case involves different branches of government and would affect more people than other civil disputes involving just a few individuals, he said.

“This case transcends Mark Eves. It really is an important case for all of Maine,” Webbert said.

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Allison Gray says her client will file suit against T-Mobile

Read or listen to the entire article here at MPBN News.

Agganis’ lawyer Allison Gray says her client will file suit in federal court this week against T-Mobile, alleging that the company subjected her to a hostile work environment based on her gender.

“What we feel is she should have been taken seriously, and instead she was silenced,” Gray says. “And that practice violates her civil rights.”

Agganis says she’s bringing suit, in part, to be a voice for those who may not feel empowered to do so.

 

Allison Gray, “A lawsuit will be filed against T-Mobile.”

Read the full article here at the Morning Sentinel

Agganis press conferenceFormer T-Mobile employee to sue over harassment at Oakland call center

Angela Agganis was asked to sign a gag order after she complained to human resources about sexual harassment from a superior, and labor groups say T-Mobile has a practice of ‘muzzling’ employees.

OAKLAND — A former T-Mobile employee who was prohibited from discussing a sexual harassment complaint she made against a superior plans to sue the company in federal court, and labor activists are using her case to call attention to company practice that “muzzles” employees who speak out about working conditions.

At a Tuesday morning news conference near the entrance of the company’s Oakland call center, Angela Agganis, of Waterville, said she worked for the company for nearly eight years and endured repeated sexual harassment from a male superior, including inappropriate touching.

When Agganis complained to human resources about the harassment in August 2014, she was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement prohibiting her from discussing the investigation with anyone and was told that if she didn’t comply with the terms of the gag order, she could be fired.

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Agganis said she signed the agreement but then immediately resigned.

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“People are scared to get fired here,” she told reporters following the event. “I just got to a point where I was more angry than scared.”

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“When people are harassed at work, especially when they are sexually harassed at work, they have a right to speak out without intimidation,” Dubnau said.

Before she complained to human resources, Agganis said, she did some research and found out that her superior had a track record of harassment.

“I began to have panic attacks. I said enough was enough,” she said.

Agganis said she asked that her superior be suspended during the internal investigation, but he was not. She quit her job because she didn’t feel safe with him in the building, she said.

Many of the call center workers are young women, and she thought she needed to make her story public to help protect other women from being harassed.

“I just really want all these people to be safe,” Agganis said.

Allison Gray, an employment and civil rights attorney from the Augusta law firm Johnson Webbert and Young, said Agganis filed a complaint in January with the Maine Human Rights Commission and requested and received a right to sue. A lawsuit will be filed against T-Mobile in Maine federal district court later this week, she said.

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In August, a judge from the National Labor Relations Board ruled that T-Mobile had violated U.S. labor law in North Carolina and Oakland when it had employees sign confidentiality agreements after opening internal investigations. The ruling required T-Mobile to rescind its policy and inform workers it had violated labor laws.

In March, another NLRB judge ruled that T-Mobile had committed 11 separate violations of labor law at locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Wichita, Kansas, Charleston, South Carolina, and New York City. In that ruling, the judge found that the company’s confidentiality requirements, including gag orders during internal investigations, violated workers’ right to talk openly about issues in the workplace.

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