Ex-Lincoln Park High School administrators sue CPS, claim ‘unfounded’ allegations make them ‘virtually unemployable’

The lawsuit is the latest in the fallout at the North Side school.

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Lincoln Park High School

Santiago Covarrubias/For the Sun-Times

Top administrators who were fired from Lincoln Park High School for allegedly mishandling investigations of improper conduct are suing Chicago Public Schools in federal court, claiming they were defamed by district officials and are now radioactive to pretty much any employer.

Former interim Principal John Thuet and Assistant Principal Michelle Brumfield have been rendered “virtually unemployable in the educational field and beyond,” according to the suit, which was filed Tuesday.

Thuet and Brumfield also claim they were robbed of their due process rights and given no opportunity to clear their names.

According to the suit — which names as defendants CPS CEO Janice Jackson, CPS spokesman Michael Passman and other officials — both suffered “significant mental anguish, anxiety, personal humiliation and embarrassment, loss of professional and personal reputation, loss of career advancement, and loss of standing in their professional community.”

The two are seeking to reverse a decision to place them on a CPS “do not hire” list. The suit notes that the move came after Thuet spent 10 years in the district, while Brumfield has worked for Chicago schools since 1995.

The suit claims “CPS publicly disseminated unfounded, false statements” in connection with the firing of the administrators. In particular, it points to a Feb. 13 Sun-Times story that explained in detail for the first time accusations of wrongdoing against the administrators. The suit claims information from “CPS officials” in the story was false and defamatory.

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John Thuet and Michelle Brumfield

LinkedIn; CPS

Thuet and Brumfield have been hit with allegations they minimized sexual misconduct reports and didn’t protect whistleblowers and victims from bullying and retaliation; withheld key evidence from investigators; and lied to families about the status of investigations.

The lawsuit denies either Thuet or Brumfield did anything wrong. The two “never ‘minimized’ any reports they received of misconduct,” the suit states.

It seeks “injunctive relief prohibiting Defendants from further disseminating defamatory statements about them” and unspecified damages.

Attorney Matthew Ryan, who’s representing Brumfield and Thuet, couldn’t be reached for comment.

In an email, CPS spokeswoman Emily Bolton said, “We don’t comment on ongoing litigation.”

Another staff member removed Tuesday

Also Tuesday, CPS removed a staff member at the high school for allegedly “engaging inappropriately with a student” according to a note sent to parents. The unnamed staff member was removed from the school and an investigation is underway.

The series of problems at Lincoln Park, which have led to five investigations, started after what CPS officials said was an unauthorized boys basketball team trip to Detroit at the end of December. The coach of the team has since been suspended, as has the remainder of the team’s season. Later other allegations surfaced regarding the girls basketball team. And a police report was generated and a civil lawsuit filed after an alleged sexual assault involving two students.

The Local School Council has called into question the investigations by CPS, and on Tuesday, sent a letter to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Jackson requesting an independent investigation into the situation.

Contributing: Lauren FitzPatrick, Nader Issa

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