Judge Gayle Crane is scheduled to hear a motion by attorneys representing former Superintendent C. J. Huff and former assistant superintendents Angie Besendorfer and Steve Doerr for summary judgment November 4.
As noted earlier in the Turner Report, the motion for summary judgment filed by Joplin attorney Karl Blanchard said Masters was removed from his position in 2010 after already signing a contract for the following year because he had "bullied" and "intimidated" teachers.
According to the motion, this information surfaced following an investigation of "allegations about MAP testing improprieties."
During the investigation, according to the motion, Doerr and former Curriculum Director Chris Templeton discovered that Masters and a teacher, Kristi Stuck, were creating a "negative and intimidating" environment. The two interviewed every teacher in the building to reach their conclusions, according to the document.
Doerr indicated that Masters had been cited for problems during his prior evaluations and that Masters was not being singled out, since Doerr had been involved in the removal of two other principals for problems with the "general building environment."
In a response filed October 19 in Jasper County Circuit Court, Springfield attorney Raymond Lampert, who is representing Masters, refuted Blanchard's points.
The record in this matter shows that there remain genuine issues of material fact that would preclude the entry of summary judgment for the defendants in this matter. Defendants have raised five points in support of their motion:
1. That the record contains no evidence of ill will
2. That the defendants made no misrepresentations or improper acts
3. That there is no evidence that the defendants acted without justification
4. The defendants are protected by official immunity, and
5. Because there is no underlying text, there is no basis to find a civil conspiracy.
The record shows that there is sufficient evidence to support each element of the plaintiff's claim and therefore summary judgment is inappropriate.
Plaintiff Masters had been offered a contract to continue his term as a principal of Royal Heights Elementary in Joplin by the Board of Education in 2010. Immediately following this, Defendant Doerr began investigating alleged improprieties involving the administration of the MAP test at Royal Heights Elementary. When the investigation failed to uncover any wrongdoing on the part of Plaintiff Masters, Doerr instead began to interview the teachers at Royal Heights about allegations of "bullying" and "intimidation."
As the deposition excerpts above show, this investigation also failed to uncover any tangible evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Larry Masters. Rather, the investigation found vague allegations that some teachers stated they felt intimidated by one of Masters' subordinates, Kristi Stuck. Again, as the deposition excerpts show, none of the complaints involved allegations of misconduct or even any specific wrongful acts on the part of Ms. Stuck or Mr. Masters.
Although Masters was not personally aware of the statements the Defendants made to the Board because said statements were made in a closed meeting without him personally present, Defendant Doerr did testify as to his own statements to the Board.
When asked about his report to the Board of Education, Mr. Doerr testified that he recommended that the Board rescind its offer of employment to Mr. Masters because "there was a lot of unrest in the building and that the climate was not conducive to a positive learning environment."
This report was based solely on allegations that certain teachers at Royal Heights had negative feelings about one of Mr. Masters' subordinates. Based on this, Dr. Doerr recommended that Mr. Masters be demoted from his position and lose his status as a principal.
A finder of fact could reasonably conclude that Dr. Doerr acted with malice and without justification in making such a recommendation after having failed to uncover any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Mr. Masters or any evidence that he had permitted Kristi Stuck to take any improper or wrongful action.
Likewise, if a finder of fact determines that Dr. Doerr acted in bad faith, then that would defeat his claim of official immunity and the Defendants' claim that there is no evidence of civil conspiracy.
There is sufficient evidence in the record to show that the Defendants made a decision to remove Larry Masters from his position as a principal or Royal Heights Elementary. When Doerr was unable to uncover any evidence that Masters had committed any wrongdoing with the MAP test, he instead decided to find a reason involving allegations that teachers had negative feelings toward Kristi Stuck, and that therefore Masters should be removed because of those feelings, absent any solid testimony that either Masters or Stuck had actually taken action to "bully" or "intimidate" any of the teachers.
This recommendation was supported by the co-Defendants, who were present at and participated in the decision in front of the school board. Summary judgment is therefore inappropriate and the Defendants' motion should be denied.
The trial is scheduled for November 29.