ALICESON B. HUMPHRIES Appellant
LORAIN CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, et al. Appellees
FROM JUDGMENT ENTERED IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS COUNTY OF
LORAIN, OHIO CASE No. 16CV188922
ANTHONY GIARDINI, Attorney at Law, for Appellant.
HASTINGS and EMILY GRANNIS, Attorneys at Law, for Appellee.
DECISION AND JOURNAL ENTRY
A. SCHAFER J.
Plaintiff-Appellant, Aliceson B. Humphries, appeals the
judgment of the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas affirming
the decision of Defendant-Appellee, the Lorain City School
District Board of Education ("Board"), terminating
Ms. Humphries' employment with the Board. We reverse and
remand to the lower court for further consideration
consistent with this opinion.
Ms. Humphries was employed by the Board in various positions
from approximately 1996 until her termination in 2016. At the
time of her termination Ms. Humphries served as the Director
of Lorain Digital Academy, pursuant to a two-year
administrative limited contract, and also held a continuing
teaching contract. The Board's decision to terminate Ms.
Humphries stems from her conduct at a Lorain City School
District track meet and senior athlete recognition ceremony,
which took place on school property at George Daniel Field on
May 6, 2015.
Ms. Humphries attended the May 6, 2015 track event along with
her sister, Natalie. Natalie's daughter, Ms.
Humphries' niece, was a Lorain City School District
student being recognized as a senior track athlete. At the
track event the niece refused to participate in the
recognition ceremony. This angered her mother, Natalie, and
the two began to argue. Ms. Humphries intervened in this
argument, which ultimately turned physical as a
"brawl" ensued, involving Ms. Humphries, Natalie,
and the niece. Security officers eventually escorted the
niece to the parking lot. While she was being escorted, Ms.
Humphries went up and "struck" or
"bopped" her niece on the head.
Ms. Humphries was placed on paid administrative leave, but
directed to stay off school property as of May 7, 2015
pending the Board's investigation of her conduct during
the track incident. Upon the conclusion of the investigation,
the Board issued notice to Ms. Humphries of a hearing to
address the Board's anticipated recommendation to
initiate termination proceedings against Ms. Humphries. After
that hearing, which took place on July 22, 2015, the Board
approved a resolution to initiate termination proceedings. In
addition to finding that she engaged in inappropriate verbal
and physical aggression toward a student-her niece-during the
track incident, the Board also considered Ms. Humphries'
conduct concerning an unrelated incident in June 29, 2009,
wherein Ms. Humphries was disciplined for her use of
profanities and physical confrontation with a student.
On August 19, 2015, the Board issued a notice of intention to
consider termination based on its August 17, 2015 resolution,
and suspended Ms. Humphries' contract without pay or
benefits. Ms. Humphries made a timely demand for a hearing to
be conducted before a referee. The hearing commenced on
November 16, 2015, concluded with the parties' submission
of post-hearing briefs in January, and the referee thereafter
issued a report and recommendation on January 22, 2016. The
referee's report summarized the proceedings and the
testimony spanning the four-day long hearing, and issued
findings of fact. Based on these findings of fact, the
referee's conclusion of law stated:
[Ms. Humphries]'s actions in physically involving herself
in attempting to get her niece to participate in the
recognition ceremony, in involving herself physically in the
ensuing brawl at the gate rather than involve security and in
"bopping" her niece while the niece was being
escorted by the security officer, constitute "just
cause" under the statute for discipline.
the referee made a recommendation that, while
"[discipline is warranted, " "termination of
this high performing administrator is excessive."
The Board considered the referee's report and, by a
four-to-one vote, issued a resolution on February 4, 2016
that rejected the referee's recommendation. The Board
found that it was "both against the greater weight of
the evidence presented and incorrectly concludes that
although Ms. Humphries' conduct 'constitutes
"just cause" under the statute for discipline,
' 'termination * * * is excessive.'" The
Board's resolution also terminated Ms. Humphries'
employment contracts effective February 5, 2016. The
resolution detailed the Board's consideration of the
referee's report and articulated the various reasons for
rejecting the referee's recommendation on termination.
Essential to its rejection of the recommendation was the
Board's conclusion that the referee's findings of
fact omitted or ignored a number of "material and
undisputed facts concerning Ms. Humphries' misconduct,
" and the Board's rejection of many of the
referee's findings of facts as being against the greater
weight of the evidence.
Ms. Humphries appealed the Board's determination to the
court of common pleas. The lower court determined "[i]n
this matter, the Board did not reject the factual findings of
the referee." In affirming the Board's decision, the
court found that the Board can and did reject the
referee's recommendation, and that such rejection was not
contrary to law. Ms. Humphries now ...