WARREN - Claiming city school officials were aware and even supported her personal relationship with Superintendent Bruce Thomas, Kristen Lewis is suing the district and the school board, charging that she was wrongfully terminated through a "false and fraudulent" reduction in force.
Lewis filed that action Tuesday in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court. The case was assigned to Judge W. Wyatt McKay, but a hearing date was not set.
Aaron Schwab, Warren's communications coordinator, said Tuesday afternoon that the school district had not yet been notified of the lawsuit and had no comment.
Lewis, who was laid off in May, is seeking more than $25,000 in compensatory damages and in excess of $100,000 in punitive damages. She claims that she was "not terminated for just cause" but "because of her relationship and association with Thomas."
The lawsuit names Warren City School District, along with Warren City Board of Education members, "individually and in official capacity," Regina Patterson, president, Patricia Limperos, Rhonda Baldwin-Amorganos, Andre Coleman and Robert Faulkner Sr.
Lewis claims that the layoff was disguised as a reduction in force to conceal the ''real reason'' for her termination, "to deprive her of her Ohio constitutional rights," that the school district sexually discriminated against her, interfered with and breached her employment contract, violated her right to due process and equal protection, defamed her, invaded her privacy, and negligently caused her to suffer emotional distress.
At the time, the board furloughed Lynne Nagy, coordinator of the district's alternative school, also through a reduction in force. Lewis claims Nagy's RIF was a scheme by the school board to "make it look like Lewis was not singled out for the RIF due to her relationship with Thomas" and that the Nagy RIF was a scam because the position at the alternative school was not discontinued, but renamed principal.
Both Lewis' and Nagy's positions were created under Thomas' reign.
Warren hired Lewis, 38, of Akron, as its students counseling, family and community engagement coordinator last October.
In April, Thomas, who was named superintendent in July 2011, told a Tribune Chronicle reporter that although he had previously known Lewis professionally, the two did not begin dating until after she started working at Warren.
He said he did not see anything wrong with dating Lewis although she was his subordinate and he denied creating the $70,000-a-year position at Warren for her.
Lewis claims that during the 2010-11 school year, she was employed by the Nordonia City School District as the counseling department director at the high school, but received word last August that she would lose her job through a reduction in force.
According to the lawsuit, Lewis had worked with Thomas "briefly and indirectly" in the 2008-09 school year at Barberton City Schools, but had not maintained contact with him.
She claims she contacted Thomas last September, thinking he still worked for Marietta City Schools, to ask him if there were any jobs available. She claims that Thomas advised her Warren had an open position. The lawsuit states that Lewis applied and was interviewed for the job, and given a two-year contract, but Thomas did not participate in the hiring process.
The lawsuit states that Lewis and Thomas, both of whom were estranged from the respective spouses, began a personal relationship in January and that the relationship became public in February. Further, the action claims that Thomas disclosed the relationship to school board members and contacted the board's attorney, Michael Hanna, who advised Thomas that as long as Thomas did not initiate pay raises or other benefits for Lewis, or directly supervise or terminate her the relationship could continue and was not inappropriate or illegal.
The lawsuit states that "Hanna even joked to Thomas, 'and of course, no sex with her on your desk.'"
Lewis claims that she and Thomas continued their personal relationship as they received no objections from the school board and that board members "actually supported the two in their personal relationship." Lewis claims that Patterson told her that she was glad that Lewis and Thomas had 'found each other'" and that other school administrators supported the relationship, "without objection."
The lawsuit states that suddenly in May, Patterson told Thomas that he must "get rid of Lewis" and to tell her she would be "subject to a RIF." The action claims that when Thomas asked Patterson why, she replied "she was tired of dealing with this," that "people are digging and finding stuff," that the relationship was "too much trouble for the board,'' and that she was ''tired of dealing with it, tired of reading about it in the newspaper, tired of the phone calls.''
Lewis claims that Thomas was not disciplined by the board and that his position as superintendent was not terminated, but he resigned when it became apparent the school board was retaliating against Lewis because of the relationship.
Just one year into his three-year contract, Thomas resigned from his post abruptly in June, informing board members through an email that he had ''become increasingly less comfortable with the decisions the board has been making.''