The case was filed in 2010 and has been often delayed, but a letter entered into Jasper County Circuit Court files today indicates district attorneys are readying themselves for trial.
In the letter, the district's attorney, Karl Blanchard, asks for one hour before the trial for motions, suggested jury instructions and "miscellaneous pre-trial matters."
The case will be heard before Judge David Dally
The following description of the case comes from the February 27, 2014, Turner Report:
Joplin R-8 Superintendent C. J. Huff is nothing if not a man of action.
When his custodial supervisor told him that he was being sexually harassed by Building, Grounds, and Transportation Director Mike Johnson, Huff said he was deeply concerned.
"Has he said anything about the principals?" Huff asked.
George Morris was worried. This meeting, which took place September 9, 2008, was not Morris' idea. He felt uncomfortable talking about his immediate supervisor.
After a pause, Morris said, "Yes. "I heard Mike Johnson say that he would like to bend Marilyn Alley (former Stapleton Elementary principal) over his desk" That was one of many times Johnson had talked about Mrs. Alley, he added.
Since he had already talked about the sexual harassment, Morris, feeling there was nothing left to lose told Huff about improper ordering and storage procedures that Mike Johnson had ordered him to do.
As the meeting ended, Huff reassured Morris, "This information will be kept confidential. There won't be any retaliation."
Less than two months later, George Morris was fired.
The information about Morris' meeting with C. J. Huff is included in a wrongful discharge lawsuit filed in 2010 in Jasper County Circuit Court. The case was originally set for trial in 2012, but was delayed when district officials claimed they had lost all of their records in the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado.
According to the petition, the meeting came at the request of Huff and former Assistant Superintendent Doug Domer. Morris was asked if there had ever been any problems between him and Johnson.
Morris said he did not feel comfortable talking about Johnson, since Huff and Domer were Johnson's bosses.
"He's going to know this came from me. I am the only one who knows about these things," Morris said. Morris also said that despite his never having had a bad evaluation that he thought what he was going to say would get him fired.
"Has he ever said anything to you that offended you concerning sexual preference?" Huff asked.
Morris said Johnson had made such remarks on more than one occasion. One such occasion was on September 9, 2008, just three days earlier, and was made in front of a witness, Gayle Bigley, according to the lawsuit. "Mike Johnson said something about my beard and Gayle said that he thought I kept it because the girls liked it. Mike Johnson responded with he thought I kept it because the guys liked it. I told him he was sick."
Morris told Huff that in August 2007, "while submitting a vacation request, Mike Johnson made a comment about Plaintiff going to see his son in Hawaii.. Mike Johnson told Plaintiff, 'Yeah, sure. We all know that you are president of the Gay Society; there is no need to lie about it."
Morris told Huff of yet another time when Johnson had made disparaging remarks. Morris was preparing to go trout fishing and prepared a vacation form. According to the lawsuit, Johnson said, "Yeah, right. We know that you're really heading up the gay convention; you aren't fooling anyone. We are all familiar with Brokeback Mountain."
At that point, Morris said, he told Johnson he found the comments to be offensive.
After that, Morris said he was worried about retaliation.
"There won't be any retaliation," Huff said, then asked him about the principals.
The lawsuit indicates that Morris believes Huff told Johnson about the meeting because within a week Johnson "became cold and distant."
On October 24, 2008, Johnson called Morris into his office to do his evaluation- nine months late. It was the first time Morris had ever received a poor evaluation.
Three days later he was fired "and not given a reason for his discharge."
The lawsuit charges Johnson and the Joplin R-8 School District with retaliation and wrongful discharge "for reporting sexual harassment and improper food ordering and storage procedures.
Morris is asking for a jury trial, damages, costs and punitive damages due to "defendants' evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others."
Morris' lawsuit is one of three that have been filed within a three-year period alleging wrongdoing on Mike Johnson's part. The district has paid settlements in the other two, including $276,000 in a lawsuit filed by Urban Metropolitan, which accused Johnson of racial discrimination.
Another lawsuit, filed by James Tucker, a 26-year veteran of the school district who was fired was detailed in the January 18, 2014, Turner Report.
Tucker was president of the Joplin Education Support Personnel, the chapter of Missouri NEA for support staff and as part of his responsibility in that position, according to the lawsuit, he sent letters to "Defendant Huff registering complaints brought to him by members of the union that Defendant Johnson had threatened them and otherwise acted inappropriately towards them in the course of his role as their supervisor."
Those letters were the beginning of the end of Tucker's employment with the R-8 School District, according to the lawsuit.
These letters played a direct role in Defendants’ decision to terminate Plaintiff from employment and his termination constituted retaliation for raising the issue of Defendant Johnson’s inappropriate behavior in addition to his other advocacy on behalf of the Union.
Plaintiff attended a meeting with another Union member and Defendant Johnson in which the Union member registered complaints with Defendant Johnson about another employee.
At the meeting, Defendant Johnson told Plaintiff and the other Union member that he could fabricate facts about them and have them terminated from employment if they did not cease their advocacy. The other Union member was in fact terminated from employment shortly thereafter.
On May 3, 2010, Tucker received a letter from the district telling him he was being laid off due to "significant financial restraints."
Since according to the district's agreement with the union, Tucker should have been eligible for any job that came up because of his considerable seniority, he continued to serve as union president, until C. J. Huff put an end to that, according to the lawsuit.
After Plaintiff was terminated from employment on June 3, 2010, he still served as Union President until August 5, 2010, and it was expected by Union members that Plaintiff would still perform his duties as Union President and negotiate on the Union members’ behalf.
When Plaintiff attempted to attend a meet and confer session on behalf of the Union with representatives of the Defendant School District at which the Administrative Guidelines were to be renegotiated, he was told by Defendant Huff to leave the meeting because he was no longer an employee and could no longer serve as a representative on the Union’s behalf.
Defendant Huff terminated Plaintiff’s employment and asked Plaintiff to leave the meeting because he knew that he would not be able to force his agenda upon the Union if Plaintiff was present.
Plaintiff’s termination from employment constituted retaliation for Union advocacy and other activities which he had a right to engage in under the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution.
The individual Defendants engaged in a concerted pattern of intimidation as part of a School District policy and custom designed to intimidate Union leaders and other Union members so that they would cease advocating for their interests and to destroy the efficacy of the Union itself. This policy culminated in the termination from employment of Union leaders who refused to bend to the will of the School District.
Tucker sued the school district because of its denial of due process. After he was laid off, Tucker filed grievances, but was never allowed to have a hearing.
The Administrative Guidelines defined the procedures by which employees could file grievances and appeal decisions made by their supervisors concerning their grievances.
After learning that he would be laid off from employment and after he learned that he would not be allowed to replace employees with less seniority than him as is required by the Administrative Guidelines, Plaintiff filed multiple grievances against the School District pursuant to the Administrative Guidelines in May and June of 2010.
On June 25, 2010, Plaintiff received a letter from Defendant Huff stating that because Plaintiff was no longer an employee of the School District, he had no recourse to file grievances under the Administrative Guidelines and therefore denied Plaintiff the opportunity to defend his rights using the process described in and required by the Administrative Guidelines.