By Ed Runyan
Kristen Lewis, who was laid off from Warren City Schools after being romantically linked to then-Superintendent Bruce Thomas, has filed a lawsuit against the school district and its board.
The lawsuit, filed in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court, alleges the district violated Lewis’ rights and employment contract when it laid her off May 29.
The school district cited financial concerns when it laid off Lewis, but Lewis contends the reason was the school board’s attitude toward her relationship with Thomas.
Thomas, when he resigned June 24, said he was leaving his job because he had “become increasingly less comfortable with the decisions the board has been making.”
Lewis’ lawsuit says Thomas left because the board reneged on a promise to reassign her to a teaching position instead of laying her off after board member Regina Patterson told Thomas he needed to “get rid of Lewis.”
Patterson told Thomas that Lewis needed to be let go because Patterson was “tired of dealing with” criticism of the romantic relationship between the two, the lawsuit said.
Thomas insisted that Lewis be given a teaching position, however, instead of losing her job altogether, and Patterson agreed, the lawsuit said. But at the May 29 board meeting, the board laid off Lewis, the suit said.
Patterson could not be reached Wednesday evening to discuss the matter.
In February, when the relationship between Lewis and Thomas became public, school board members expressed no concern about it, the lawsuit said.
In fact, the school board’s attorney, Michael Hanna of Squire Sanders and Dempsey of Cleveland, told Thomas there was no problem with the relationship as long as Thomas did not initiate pay raises or other benefits for Lewis, the lawsuit said.
Mike Notar, new superintendent of Warren City Schools, said Wednesday the school district had not received an official copy of the lawsuit and would not comment on it until he had discussed it with the school’s attorneys.
The lawsuit notes that Lewis, 38, and Thomas, 55, were estranged from their respective spouses at the time the relationship began in mid-January.
The lawsuit said Lewis’ supervisor, Melissa Watson, gave Lewis a proficient rating in her midyear evaluation conducted Jan. 3. Watson said in the evaluation Lewis “has been effective in dealing [with] our bullying issue” and other counseling-related matters, the lawsuit said.
Lewis said she approached Thomas about a job in early September after learning she would be losing her counseling job at the Nordonia City Schools.
Lewis said she had worked briefly with Thomas in 2008 but had not kept in touch with him afterward. Lewis was hired in October to the position of coordinator of student counseling, family and community engagement.
In a public statement in November, Thomas said the district had hired Lewis to implement an anti-bullying campaign to combat a rash of bullying incidents.
The suit seeks at least $25,000 in compensatory damages and at least $100,000 in punitive damages. The suit says the school district discriminated against Lewis, breached her employment contract, and violating her right to due process and freedom of association.
The suit was filed by Atty. Frank Consolo of Cleveland.