City Desk

Rhee’s Magazine Comments Draw Lawsuit

If the PR and political fallout from Chancellor Michelle Rhee's inflammatory comments to Fast Company magazine weren't distracting enough, turns out there's some legal ramifications as well: City lawyers will now have to expend time and money swatting away a lawsuit.

Ronnie Jones, one of the 229 teachers laid off in last September's "reduction in force," filed suit in D.C. Superior Court on Feb. 18 claiming defamation, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress—all this due to Rhee's quote about removing "teachers who hit children, who had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school."

Rhee's comments, the lawsuit claims, were "in furtherance of her plan to discredit the D.C. Public School teachers who were fired under the pretext of a RIF....At the time defendant Rhee made the statement alleged above, she knew it to be false and without merit." Furthermore, co-defendant Mayor Adrian M. Fenty "instead of disavowing and correcting the erroneous statement of defendant Rhee, all but ratified her comments and reiterated that she was doing a great job and was in fact the premier superintendent in the country."

For the record: "At no time did plaintiff ever engage in any of the inappropriate conduct alleged and the defendants know that to be the case."

Jones claims he "continues to suffer from severe and irreparable injury in his profession and community standing" and has "suffered permanent damage to his reputation as a law-abiding citizen of high moral character."

His attorney is Gregory Lattimer, no stranger to the Office of the Attorney General. You might remember him from his bulldog pursuit of the DeOnté Rawlings case.

Jones is seeking some $30 million in relief—$15 million each in compensatory and punitive damages. Getting any kind of judgment will be a tall order, however—proving that Rhee knew her comments were "false and without merit" when she was spoke them will be a tough sell, to say the least. Especially when records show that, while Rhee's utterance wasn't precise, it reflected more than a grain of truth.

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  • Skipper

    Pretty slim chance of winning a defamation case. And $30 million? Um, right. Good luck with that one. Might want to keep hitting the Help Wanted ads in case that payday doesn't work out.

  • Truth Hurts

    Did Rhee say something in particular about Ronnie Jones? If not, case closed. If Rhee specifically singled out Jones (which I doubt), then Jones wins only if Jones proves it was untrue, Rhee knew it was untrue, and Jones suffered damages. And if Jones can prove all those elements, which I doubt, then Rhee deserves to be sued.

  • proballdc

    For goodness sake, why did Rhee have to go there. If she had kept her chops clothed, as she should have when it comes to personnel issues, this unnecessary lawsuit could have been avoided.

  • proballdc

    closed=clothed. Sorry. Computer think it knows what I am trying to say more than I do.

  • downtown rez

    I guess Roy Pearson was busy.

  • Geeen

    Pants!

  • Manor

    Another lawsuit chasing DC fool. Maybe you can fake diabetes or some such if this doesn't work. After decades of flight from DC, the worst of the worst remains via distillation.

  • http://deleted candycane1

    I hope it gets at least as much press.

  • Skipper

    It will, especially when dismissed and then Nickels sues for frivolous lawsuit. And then the whiners will be out in full force here complaining about how mean Rhee and Nickels are to those poor, dedicated teachers who are fired and can't get hired anywhere else.

  • non-lawyer

    I'm not a lawyer, so I don't grasp the subtleties here. But I don't understand why this guy doesn't have at least a potential case. Rhee stated that these teachers were being laid off because they assaulted children, molested children etc. Anyone who knew that he was one of the laid-off teachers -- like family, friends, neighbors and potential future employers -- might reasonably conclude that he been booted for doing something terrible even if he wasn't specifically named. (Hypothetically, if I said "All D.C. school officials are drug-addled thieves," you think Rhee's lawyers might have a response?) I don't this guy deserves $30 million, but at a minimum he's entitled to a formal statement that he was laid off for economic reasons and not for any misconduct, and a lawsuit has become the only tool available to to get officials' attention when they abuse their positions.

  • turtle

    I'm glad there's a lawsuit. The school did everything possible to tar and feather the teachers who were cut. For sure, there were innocents caught up in it who have been branded by the Rhee & company as total screw ups and worse.

    Rhee was totally unprofessional. I don't know whether that's lawsuit worthy, but for sure, no surprise that it gets one. The lawsuit is totally her fault.

  • S.E.
  • proballdc

    @Skipper, you don't get it. I counter-suit by Peter Nickles is an unnecessary waste of District resources in a recessionary environment. This silly lawsuit could have been avoided had Rhee followed the standard District retort to questions regarding personnel issues. (i.e. "no comment"). She felt compelled to denigrate already terminated people and for what? "Personal" satisfaction. Lawsuits are expensive and timely. Don't add fuel to the already blistering heat of our economic fire. The District is facing a $500 million deficit in 2011 in large part due to agency OVER-spending in FY 2010.

    Why the Mayor sat back and watched as his agencies went on a spending extravaganza, ignoring their budgets, is a subject for another day.

  • Skipper

    @non-lawyer: The guy doesn't have a case for defamation. No one can reasonably conclude he was one of the bad teachers Rhee spoke of. It's like GM laying off hundreds of workers and its CEO saying that some liked to get frisky with sheep in the break room. There's too big a number of people that were laid off. Now, if it had been a small number of teachers laid off and Rhee said the same thing, then this guy may have more of a case. My prediction, based on years of Law & Order - the case doesn't survive summary judgment.

  • noodlez

    WHILE I AGREE THAT A LAWSUIT AGAINST THE DC GOVT IS NOT THE ANSWER. IM GLAD THAT SOME PRESSURE IS BEING APPLIED AND SOME LIGHT IS BEING SHOWN ON THE ATROCITY THAT IS MICHELLE RHEE-CHANCELLOR AND ADRIAN FENTY-MAYOR.

    UNFORTUNATELY, THE ONLY THING THAT IS GOING TO COME OUT OF THIS IS MORE SEXUAL ROLE PLAY FROM KEVIN (HERE COMES THE JUDGE) JOHNSON AND MICHELLE (STRIKE ME WITH YOUR GAVEL) RHEE.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    I don't know how far this will go, but I'm certain others will jump on the bandwagon before its done. If anything, this lawsuit will be the best thing to happen to the District in years. It undermines Fenty's platform and hopefully with the other and numerous inconsistencies in his camp, new leadership will emerge (someone else, anyone else, please run).

    I know this isn't a clear cut case of libel but her comments clearly indicated that the reduction was solely based on finances but rather a combination of financial problems and the need to get rid of unfit teachers. I think the City will have a hard time disproving this guy's claims.

  • Sheila H. Gill

    I'm encouraging all of my riffed colleagues to file a suit immeiately.

    Wrongfully Terminated Professional School Counselor at MTHS, a victim of Michelle Rhee who manufactured a Reduction-in-Force.

  • Sheila H. Gill

    typo: I'm encouraging all of my riffed colleagues to file a suit immediately.

  • Who dat is??

    Who dat is Ronnie Jones? Where dat he get his lawyer? How much dat is gonna be? It's been 5-months since dat rif and this is only the fallout...I guess duh rah we are still grasping at straws.

  • Classic

    Unforunately there have been a lot of things going on since the RIF's the press just doesnt really cover it.

    As for some of the people that think that this man is wasting time and resources put yourself in his shoes. Some of the RIF'ed teachers have been told that they could not be hired because of statements that Michelle Rhee made in the press. If it were truly a budget pressure which she testifyed under oath than why does she feel the need to continure to talk about how horrible the teachers were? It does paint everyone with a very broad brush. She has blackballed all of these teachers and made it very hard to find work. She stated herself in front of the city council that some very good teachers got RIF'ed.

  • Lightkeeper

    The Mayor, Rhee and DCPS deserve to be sued. The more lawsuits - the more attention is focused on the lousy treatment that DCPS teachers, administrators and staff receive at the hands of Rhee. What is now hindering school reform in DC is the behavior and incompetence of the chancellor. Her lack of experience and people skills is demonstrated daily. She has determined that the road to success is in firing employees whether there is sufficient reason or not. If any of the lawsuits now underway are successful - the "financial pain" suffered by the city should move the voters to GET RID OF FENTY AND RHEE.

  • dccounselor72

    I hope all 200+ individuals RIFed sue Rhee, Fenty and the low-living administrators who used the RIF to fire employees they did not like.

    Some may get justice and some may not. However, it will keep the light shining on this band of crooks. Also, I hope the recently fired central office workers join in.

    While Fenty and Rhee's friends get rich from taxpayers funds, the average person working for DC Government and DCPS are treated like dogs.

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