HASLETT, Mich. — A Haslett Public Schools administrator is suing the district and Superintendent Steve Cook in federal court, saying she was harassed after advocating for minority students.
Associate Superintendent Susan Gillings had a positive relationship with the Haslett School District, according to her attorney Michael Pitt.
“She had a perfect record," Pitt said. "I looked at her evaluations. She received a three and a half or fours, four being the highest score, consistently. She was a stellar performer.”
She claims everything changed when she began pushing Cook to issue a strong statement following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“When the George Floyd incident occurred she was activated to become an advocate for racial justice in Haslett Public Schools,” Pitt said.
The district released a statement denying the allegations in the lawsuit saying it will not tolerate administrators behaving badly.
"Administrators play an important role in creating a healthy work environment," it read. "If anyone repeatedly violates our fundamental value to create a positive work space,that administrator will be removed from their employment."
Haslett has a history of racial discrimination among students. The Lansing chapter of the NAACP concluded following an investigation last year that the district needed to undertake more staff training to ensure that racial or ethnic harassment complaints were handled appropriately.
Gillings claims in the lawsuit, filed in Cook became hostile towards her after she encouraged him to write a letter to students about Floyd's death.
“She was given the cold shoulder. She was frozen out of activities," Pitt said. "Superintendent Cook would no longer communicate with her on a collaborative bases. He became hostile and belligerent toward her.”
Pitt said Gillings also fell into a dispute with Board of Education Trustee Greg Michaud after voicing her support for teachers' safety when returning to the classroom.
“He called her unprofessional. She became very emotional about it," Pitt said. "She’s still dealing with the loss of her son. She takes a medical leave in October.”
Gillings's medical leave was set to last for 90 days. Cook extended it, saying a harassment letter that was filed against her in September by a custodial supervisor needed to be delt with. Her attorney said he also told her she had enough time for paid leave and he would help her find a new job, which Gillings refused.
“They denied her, her right to return to work, told her she was on paid administrative leave pending the investigation of this harassment letter which was at this point the result of an incident that had taken place some five months before,” Pitt said.
Earlier this week, she received a letter saying her contract with the district would not be renewed. One day later, she filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.
“We are pursuing her legal rights under the first amendment of the constitution,” said Pitt.
Gillings attorney said he believes if she would have agreed with Cook, her contract would have been renewed.
“If she would have agreed with Mr. Cook that it was political and decided not to advocate for racial justice, she would still be there, her contract would have been renewed no question about it,” Pitt said.
Gillings and her attorney are hoping this lawsuit will allow her to be reinstated.
“They need to open an investigation into the conduct of Mr. Cook," Pitt said. "They need to determine whether or not her civil rights were violated and she needs to be reinstated.”
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