CMS settles Leardini case for $680,000

CMS settles Leardini case for $680,000

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by ANN DOSS HELMS / The Charlotte Observer

WCNC.com

Posted on October 8, 2012 at 3:06 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 8 at 5:53 PM

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has agreed to pay former teacher Jeffrey Leardini $680,000 to settle a lawsuit that brought him a jury award of $1.1 million.

Leardini, a former sixth-grade teacher at Community House Middle School, contended he was improperly forced to resign in 2006, after five students accused him of improperly touching them. Criminal charges stemming from the incident were dismissed, and the jury that heard the civil case in February agreed that CMS acted improperly.

The settlement reduces the payment and ends CMS’ appeals, lawyers for both sides said Monday. CMS attorney George Battle III said it was worked out during mediation required as part of the appeals process, with the payment made late last week.

Leardini, who now lives in San Diego and works in a corporate job, was a CMS teacher for eight years. He got glowing reviews, but his career was derailed in 2006 after five girls said he had improperly touched them, including touching their thighs and popping bra straps.

Leardini acknowledged that he squeezed shoulders, patted arms and touched students’ heads as part of his teaching style, but said the claims were exaggerated and stemmed from a conflict with a student who was getting bad grades in his class. He told the jury that Kay Cunningham, an employee relations specialist for CMS, misled and intimidated him into resigning on the spot, rather than letting the district investigate.

The jury awarded Leardini $1.1 million from CMS and just over $52,000 from Cunningham, who no longer works for CMS. Leardini’s legal fees could have been added to that total.

The settlement covers everything, including legal fees. CMS must pay a $250,000 deductible and insurance pays the rest, Battle said.

As part of the settlement, CMS will change Leardini’s record from “resignation in lieu of dismissal,” which made him ineligible for rehire, to voluntary resignation. “Any reference to termination or suspension will be removed,” it says.

Luke Largess, Leardini’s lawyer, said the settlement headed off the possibility of a new trial, based on issues connected with the judge’s instructions to the jury. He said the successful claim has made school boards more aware of the way they handle complaints against teachers.

“It has given them pause” about rushing accused employees to resign, Largess said.

Battle said the case did not force specific changes in CMS practices because the circumstances were “unique and anomalous.”

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