The Charlotte Observer reports that six years after Jeffery Leardini’s teaching career ended, a jury ruled that Charlotte-Mecklenberg Schools violated Leardini’s rights by coercing him to resign, and awarded him over $1 million.
Leardini taught at CMS for eight years, mostly in its elementary schools. His job reviews were excellent and he never had any complaints until he began teaching the sixth grade in 2005-2006. That fall, two students reported to the principal that Leardini had made them uncomfortable by touching their shoulders.
Leardini testified that he did use certain forms of touch to encourage and engage his students. He would, for example, squeeze their shoulders, touch their heads, and pat their arms. But he said that after the complaint, he apologized and stopped touching those girls. But his teaching style remained unaltered, and he believes that the complaints are because of an ongoing tension with one of the girls, who was transferred out of his class because of bad grades.
In the spring of 2006, he was called into the school office where then-CMS’s employee relations relations specialist, Kay Cunningham, informed him that five more girls had made complaints against him. Leardini contends that Cunningham deceived him by saying that an immediate resignation would keep an investigation from happening and allow him receive pay through the end of the school year.
CMS did report the allegations to the Department of Social Services, including reports that Leardini had touched girls thighs and popped their bra straps. CMS police investigated and filed charges, but Leardini was acquitted of them all.
After a four day, and eight person jury ruled that the CMS school board is responsible for a coerced resignation, and also found Cunningham, who no longer works for CMS, personally negligent. They awarded Leardini $52,156 from her, on top of the $1,121, 560 to be paid by CMS. The jury did not explain how they came to those figures.
A spokeswoman for CMS said in a statement, “Counsel for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has received the verdict in the Leardini case. They are reviewing the findings to determine next steps.”