Wednesday, February 04, 2015
R-8 District saves Huff embarrassment, settlement reached in sexual harassment lawsuit
In a letter to Judge David Dally, who would have been hearing the case, the district's lawyer, Karl Blanchard, said there would be no need for the pre-trial hearing, which was scheduled for today, or for the trial.
This case currently set on your trial docket for February 17 has been settled, We are in the process of preparing and executing the settlement documents which we anticipate will be filed shortly.
The timing of the settlement could not be better for C. J. Huff, who was facing the prospect of having embarrassing testimony about him and Johnson at the trial at about the same time as State Auditor Thomas Schweich delivers a report that is expected to be heavily critical of Huff's management of the school district.
The Morris lawsuit is at least the third in the past three years in which the district has had to pay off a plaintiff. In one of the lawsuits, filed by Urban Metropolitan, which included accusations of racism against Johnson, the district paid $276,000.
George Morris alleged wrongful firing, retaliation, harassment, and sexual harassment against Johnson. Though Huff was not listed as a defendant in the action, he is prominently featured in the lawsuit,
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..
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."