Schools Chief Says He’s Out Because He’s Gay

Richard MitchellCHICAGO, ILLINOIS – A superintendent who made a spoof video of teachers’ interviews with a martini glass in his hand says he will file a complaint this week against his employer for sexual orientation discrimination.
Bremen High School District 228 Supt. Richard Mitchell is expected today to formally notify the school board of his pending complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission.
The complaint is twofold, said attorney Jim Madigan, of Lambda Legal, a legal organization working for the civil rights of gays, lesbians and people with HIV/AIDS.
Mitchell alleges that the school board is refusing to honor his employment contract through 2009 because he is gay. Witnesses claim school board president Evelyn Gleason has referred to Mitchell with homophobic slurs and is trying to run him out of the district because of his sexual orientation, Madigan said.
Mitchell also claims Gleason retaliated against him after she learned of the pending lawsuit by giving the spoof video to WBBM-TV (Channel 2) and saying she was outraged by it. Gleason sat next to and laughed along with Mitchell in August when the video was shown at an all-staff opening day institute, Madigan said.
“She’s done this in response to Rich’s assertion of his rights,” Madigan said. “Anyone can see this for what it is.”
Gleason did not return a call for comment Monday, and Mitchell referred calls for comment to his lawyer.
Mitchell was hired in 2004 in a 4-to-3 vote, with Gleason casting one of the “no” votes. The board majority changed in the next election, and Gleason was nominated to be president.
Under her leadership, Mitchell’s responsibilities have been curtailed and programs undone. A law firm that employs her son invalidated a contract extension granted to Mitchell by the prior board.
Gleason said Mitchell was being let go early because he failed to improve student achievement, one of the goals in his performance-based contract.
Not true, Madigan said. Present and former board members and other witnesses related to the district will testify that Gleason wanted him out for another reason.
“His sexual orientation was the motivating factor,” he said.
Mitchell has created spoof videos for the opening day teacher institute for two years. He splices fake interview questions with real answers from first-year teachers.
The worst of the fake interviews made a new teacher out to be a murderer.
“Do you have a nickname?” Mitchell asked.
“Predator,” the teacher said.
“How do you like to unwind?” Mitchell asked.
“I enjoy a lot of leisure activities,” the teacher said.
“Such as?” Mitchell asked.
“Killing,” the teacher said.
“Who have you tried to kill?” Mitchell asked.
“Pat Welch.”
Welch is the principal of Hillcrest High School.
Teachers union president Jim Kane said no teachers complained this year or last until the video hit the media. On Monday, one administrator and one teacher said the video was inappropriate. The teacher, who may have been featured, said she walked out of the Tinley Park High School gym during the showing because she felt uncomfortable.
Kane said in hindsight, it was a mistake to post the video on the district’s Web site. But he questioned why the board president didn’t simply ask Mitchell to remove the video.
Kane said he is standing behind the superintendent and wants union members to do the same at tonight’s school board meeting.
“I did ask the staff to show up if you believe that a sense of humor is what gets us through the day,” he said.
Pastor David Mensing, a part of a clergy-school association started by Mitchell, is among the community members who have little sympathy for superintendent.
The video has nothing to do with Mitchell’s sexual orientation or board politics, he said. Tonight, he will demand an apology or resignation from Mitchell.
“This has to be a mea culpa right down to the very bottom,” Mensing said. “He betrayed our trust, confidence and his integrity, and he hurt the children. He should apologize and say, ‘If I get to continue in my post, I will really try hard to gain your trust again.’ Anything less than that, and he’s done for as far as I’m concerned.”
Board member Verla Clevenger supports Mitchell and is asking Gleason to resign tonight.
“This (lawsuit) will cost millions,” she said. “Why? Because you don’t like his lifestyle — not because of the tape.”
Madigan intends to file the complaint Wednesday unless the school board tonight decides to honor Mitchell’s contract and “let him do his job.”
This would be the second complaint against the district filed by Mitchell. In April, he asked a Cook County chancery judge to reinstate his contract.
Mitchell’s personal and civil rights attorneys met Sept. 25 with the district’s attorney to discuss a settlement. One source said the tentative agreement called for Mitchell to stay on through the next school board election. It is unclear if that offer still is on the table.
Sexual orientation was added to the Human Rights Act by the Illinois General Assembly effective Jan. 1 this year, Madigan said. Because discrimination investigations conducted by the Human Rights Department often are confidential, he could not say whether there are other sexual orientation employment discrimination cases pending.
Mitchell lives with his partner in Indiana.
from Daily Southtown

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