INDIANAPOLIS – A former school superintendent says he was fired for having a disability, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Dr. Thomas Little’s contract with Perry Township Schools was not set to expire until 2019, however, Little alleges the school board terminated him when he got back from medical leave.
Little, 61, has Guillain–Barré syndrome, a rare but serious autoimmune disorder that causes muscle weakness.
Little took leave from his superintendent position in July of 2016 as a result of his illness, but according to the EEOC complaint, doctors cleared Little to return to work in January 2017.
Board members refused to allow Little to return to his superintendent job, according to the EEOC complaint, filed last month.
Little alleges the district violated federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which protect employees from adverse employer actions on the basis of age and disability.
Little pointed out that during his 9 years as superintendent, the board rated him as “effective” or “highly effective” on every single evaluation.
“Academic achievement scores and graduation rates consistently increased each year under my tenure,” read the EEOC complaint. “I have been recognized on the state and national level for my expertise as a superintendent of schools. In 2014, I was named as Superintendent of the Year for the State of Indiana.”
Call 6 Investigates has reported Little will receive a $325,000 payout, because the board exercised a “no fault” provision in Little’s contract, meaning Little was not being terminated for disciplinary or performance reasons.
However, Little’s attorney says Little has not yet received any of the $325,000 payout, and that the payout is in dispute.
Little may actually be eligible for more compensation, according to Little’s attorney Kevin Betz.
“They owe him a number of things under the contract they agreed to,” said Betz. “He just wants the board to live up to its promises.”
Little had 2 years left on his contract at $195,000 base salary plus benefits and perks, such as a vehicle allowance.
Records show Little had been absent from many recent school board meetings since July 2016.
“That was all excused absences,” said Betz. “We know of no absences that were not excused.”
Betz said Perry Township Schools is wasting money by paying Little, current superintendent Patrick Mapes, as well as an associate superintendent.
“If there’s any waste of taxpayer dollars, it seems to be a gross mismanagement of taxpayer dollars to remove a superintendent who was performing at a five star level,” said Betz. “It’s very sad and disappointing that they’ve made the choices they have made. The way to save money for the taxpayers is to allow Dr. Little to fulfill his duties.”
Records show Mapes’ base salary is $198,000, plus benefits including a $100 a month technology allowance.
“Dr. Little wants to work and is able to work,” said Betz.
Call 6 Investigates has been fighting for more information about Little’s termination since the school board announced May 8 it “voted to discontinue the district’s employment relationship with Dr. Thomas J. Little as Superintendent.”
At the time, the board called the agreement a “confidential matter.”
An Important Message from the Board: pic.twitter.com/sz00PVc7TT
— Perry Schools (@PerryTwpSchools) May 8, 2017
Call 6 Investigates filed a formal complaint with the Indiana Public Access Counselor against Perry Township Schools in an effort to learn more about how much Little received after he cut ties with the district.
On July 10, Public Access Counselor Luke Britt issued a four page opinion in which he raised concerns about the school district’s response, calling it “misleading.”
“Even the meeting minutes do not mention any reference to a buyout, written notice of cancelation or discussion of any personnel matter that would remotely qualify as ‘confidential’,” read the Public Access Counselor’s opinion. “The buyout to the sum of $325,00 is a substantial amount of money for any public employee or official and is going to raise suspicion and curiosity. To be dismissive of this consideration is imprudent.”
Britt said compensation, including buyout and settlement amounts, must be disclosed upon request under Indiana law.
Little’s attorney said he was concerned to see the district’s lack of transparency on the superintendent’s termination.
“It’s disturbing to see that kind of misinformation come out of a public agency,” Betz said of the district’s response to Call 6 Investigates.
Following Britt’s opinion, the school district’s attorney confirmed the board authorized a $325,000 payment to Little.
Call 6 Investigates contacted the school board’s attorney Tuesday for a response to Little’s EEOC complaint, but we have not yet heard back.
Elected school board members have not answered inquiries from Call 6 Investigates about Little’s termination.
The district has emphasized it used the “no fault” provision of Little’s contract, which Little and the district both agreed to in 2015.
Once the EEOC issues its findings, Little will have 90 days to pursue a lawsuit in federal court, Betz said.