A Buchtel student has filed a lawsuit against his former math teacher who was fired in May for uploading photographs of students with duct-taped mouths.
The student charges in the lawsuit filed in Summit County Common Pleas Court that the teacher acted maliciously and was racially motivated to “embarrass and humiliate” him.
Melissa Cairns posted photos of her students on her Facebook page in October. She told a school hearing officer that her students had applied the duct tape themselves and that she regretted posting the pictures.
The board fired Cairns, not for the duct tape, but for violating student privacy laws.
Rhonda Porter, general counsel for Akron schools, said Thursday she is awaiting a subpoena for documents from the student’s attorney.
Because Cairns “wasn’t acting within her scope of employment,” Porter said the school district, which is named in the complaint, will not be representing her.
Porter also said that the school’s investigation gave no indication that Cairns’ actions were malicious or racially motivated.
“During our investigation of this matter it was never our conclusion that this was racially motivated,” Porter said. “If it had been substantiated that would have been additional grounds to fire her.”
Akron attorney Edward Gilbert, however, said his client, whose identity he would not disclose to keep the child safe, says otherwise.
“When you look at the racial makeup of the class, and what occurred, we have to review all possible claims,” Gilbert said of the number of African-American students involved. “Clearly it’s a possibility for that claim.”
According to the complaint, the child “has suffered severe emotional injury and is presently undergoing therapy, and is permanently damaged.”
The complaint calls for at least $25,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, as well as legal fees. Gilbert also said he may represent more students in the future.
“This was very unusual, very inappropriate and we are reviewing every possible aspect of the claim,” he said.
The complaint listed no attorney for Cairns, who could not be reached for comment. The State Board of Education has listed no conduct hearing or disciplinary action regarding Cairns’ five-year teaching license.
Bill Siegferth, of the Akron Education Association, which provided legal representation for Cairns during Akron schools’ investigation, was reluctant to comment as Cairns is no longer a member of the union. He did say, though, that race and malice were never issues in the district’s proceedings.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.