Manos sues school district

Manos sues school district

URBANA — As promised when she was ousted as Villa Grove schools superintendent in July, Mary Ann Manos has filed a lawsuit against the district, claiming her contract was breached and her constitutional rights of due process were violated.

The 20-page suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Urbana by her attorney, Ronald Langacker of Langacker Law. It names as defendants the district and members of Villa Grove's school board, in both their official and individual capacities.

Here is a copy of the suit and related documents filed with it.

Among other demands, the suit calls for Manos to be compensated for the remaining two years of her four-year contract, which amounts to at least $230,000 in salary alone, not including benefits.

The complaint is just the latest development in a summer-long saga that began in May, when the Villa Grove board scheduled seven closed session special meetings that Manos says she was excluded from.

Since then:

— Manos was notified via email in late June that the board would vote on her paid suspension at a special meeting that evening, which she said she was unable to attend because of a recent surgery. The board met in closed session for the majority of that June 23 meeting, unanimously approving her suspension and scheduling a dismissal hearing for mid-July.

— During the eight-hour termination meeting, which began in the early evening of July 13 and ended in the early hours of July 14, the board brought forth evidence and witnesses it believes backed up 28 different allegations against Manos. According to discharge documents provided to The News-Gazette, the complaints against Manos included references to several acts of carelessness and negligence with school finances, "deception" of the board and repeatedly making staff feel "threatened" and "intimidated" by her presence and "unprofessional demeanor."

— After the hearing, the board voted to fire Manos, stating it had just cause to do so. Since that night, Manos has maintained she would contest the board's decision in court.

The details of her grievances with the district are outlined in the lawsuit, which alleges she was given little substantive evidence about the allegations against her prior to the dismissal hearing and was given no opportunity to respond to any of the board's complaints or defend herself.

"When you are a public employee, you have a right to have a hearing before you are discharged," Langacker said Wednesday. "That means you have the right to know the charges against you, hear the evidence and you have to be given an opportunity to respond. These are protections that are in place because of constitutional rights that basically give state employees additional rights in these situations. She never had an opportunity to tell her side of the story or respond to the case at all. She didn't get any exhibits until the night of. There's a real problem with that.

"It wasn't a hearing, it was just a recitation of evidence to meet a particular purpose," he said.

The complaint also alleges that the charges against Manos were too vague to hold merit.

Said Langacker: "Essentially, the charges say 'People did not get along with Dr. Manos' or 'People felt intimidated by Dr. Manos' with no evidence of dates or details to back it up. That's not really sufficient information to make a charge."

Because Manos believes she was not given an opportunity to defend herself, the complaint alleges the board did not have just cause to fire her. That entitles her to be compensated for the remainder of her contract, the economic struggles she's endured since July, legal fees and damage to her reputation, the suit states.

Langacker said he sent a letter to the school board's attorney outlining the suit last week, but has not received a response.

The school board declined comment about the suit, President Jim Clark said Wednesday, speaking for all six members.

"The board of education, nor any representatives of the board, will be commenting on any pending litigation involving Dr. Manos," Clark said. "I will say that the board of education and administration are focused on the future, not the past, and doing what is best for the students and staff members of Villa Grove 302."

The district named the retired Norm Tracy interim superintendent on July 30.