Principal says she was a scapegoat and whistleblower, but Mich. court says her firing was justified

By Asia Mayfield | Sep 25, 2018

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LANSING, Mich. (Legal Newsline) – The Michigan Court of Appeals has rejected a wrongful termination complaint filed by a former school principal.

On Sept. 11, the court upheld the ruling of the Macomb Circuit Court in favor of defendants Brian J. Walmsley, Richmond Community Schools and the Richmond Community School District Board of Education.  

The trial court determined that the plaintiff’s job was “governed by a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and therefore could not be individually negotiated and that plaintiff had failed to establish a prima facie case between any protected activity and her termination,” the ruling stated.  

Plaintiff Paula Dowker alleged that she was fired from her role as principal of Will E. Lee Elementary School in retaliation for implementing defendant and school district Superintendent Brian Walmsley’s ideas. The changes proved unpopular, and the plaintiff believes that she was used as a "scapegoat." Dowker accused the defendants of violating the Whistleblowers' Protection Act.  

Defendants argue that Dowker has an extensive disciplinary record. School officials have received complaints from teachers and students about her conduct.

The appeals court noted that “Defendants’ determination to terminate plaintiff’s employment cannot be construed to be arbitrary or capricious given the number of complaints and problems documented and verified regarding plaintiff’s performance as a principal.”

Dowker also alleged that her dismissal was due to her reporting the misuse of government funds. The trial court reasoned, however, that Dowker failed to establish a prima facie case under the WPA, the appeals court noted.

Going further, the appeals court noted the trial court found that “'no reasonable juror could infer from the evidence presented that plaintiff’s report of defendant Richmond Community Schools’ misuse of Title I funds constituted a motivating factor in defendants’ decision to terminate her employment...”  

The court said Dowker failed to prove that defendants were aware of her reporting when she was fired. The only connection she was able to demonstrate between her whistleblower activity and her dismissal was “temporal.”

Defendants, meanwhile, offered a significant amount of evidence that Dowker was poorly received by both parents and other faculty members.

The appeals court justices remarked that “defendants have provided sufficient justifications for their action in terminating plaintiff’s employment.”  

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