JACKSON, Mich. — The Michigan Supreme Court has declined to a hear Jackson Public Schools’ appeal of a 2018 state Court of Appeals ruling that found the district had retaliated against former teacher Pennie Davis after she reported being assaulted by a student to the Jackson Police Department.
The court said they were not persuaded that the questions presented by the district should be reviewed.
The case stems from an October 2015 incident in which Davis was assaulted in her classroom by a student.
She was placed on leave so school officials could complete an investigation. When she returned to work, a plan was put in place for Davis and the student to avoid each other to abide by the personal protection order she obtained after reporting the assault to police.
She believes going to the police prompted the retaliation she experienced from the school district.
She was moved from her classroom at Jackson High School and transferred to the Middle School at Parkside. Afterwards, after decades of evaluations rating her highly effective as a teacher, she was told she was a “failing teacher” and received a poor evaluation for the 2015-16 school year.
Davis’ attorneys Megan Bonanni and Beth Rivers said there was a series of retaliations.
“Culminating in them removing her from her classroom that she created, that had all of her materials, move her to a school where she is not trained. It was an international baccalaureate school. They didn’t train her, threw her in there and then immediately said she was failing,” Bonanni said. “I’ve never seen a case with this kind of venom.”
Davis taught art at the district from 1986 until 2015 and was a curriculum chair for the art department. She briefly returned to the district while the lawsuit was ongoing to teach art after the student who assaulted her left the school system. She retired in 2020.
“We tried the case after she’d been reinstated in the high school,” Bonanni said. “I said, ‘This can’t even be true. This can’t be real.’ Once she was reinstated, they refused to place her back in her own room, her own art room. They put her in a room that had not been used before, that had exposed wire. They didn’t give her the necessary materials. She had to fight for every single thing. That was ongoing retaliation.”
The Michigan Supreme Court said the evidence presented by Davis was sufficient to demonstrate that the school district, “took adverse employment action because of plaintiff’s protected activity.”
Jackson Public Schools originally moved for a summary disposition in 2018. A jury trial was held for eight days in Judge John McBain’s courtroom. The jury would rule in favor of Davis and awarded her $388,345.
“It was very clear to this jury,” Bonanni said. “This jury was unanimous and they were shocked and appalled.”
School officials filed a motion for a new trial. In July 2020, the state Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the jury’s decision was correct.
The district filed another application to appeal. Oral arguments were held in January. Earlier this week, the state Supreme Court denied the appeal.
“They fought me every step of the way,” Bonanni said. “I couldn’t believe it. I’ve never seen anything like it.
To read the full summary from the Supreme Court click here.
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