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A settlement’s a settlement, court rules

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in Employment Law,Firing,Human Resources

Once the legal bell tolls, you can’t un-ring it. So learned a South Bend educator who this spring sought to overturn an employment law settlement she had seemingly agreed to four years ago.

Victoria Thomas worked as a social worker, special education teacher and assistant principal during her career of more than 25 years with the South Bend Community School District. In October 2003, two fellow staffers, one a substitute teacher and the other an aide to an autistic, nonverbal, disabled student, reported that Thomas struck the student with a belt. That could have been a firing offense.

The school district investigated. Thomas responded in writing that what the witnesses said was true, but had been taken out of context. Thomas said she had a special rapport with the student and she had struck her in a playful way, without malice or intent to injure.

The district scheduled a hearing to consider Thomas’ termination. Thomas requested a prehearing conference, which she attended with her lawyer. Her lawyer subsequently negotiated an agreement with the school district in which Thomas accepted a special education teacher position at Jackson Intermediate Center. Jackson started in the position in January 2004.

Thomas later sued, arguing that she never signed the agreement, and that she had never authorized her lawyer to negotiate for her.

The court was unimpressed, noting that she had accepted the teaching position, and therefore the terms of the agreement—to keep from being fired.

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