June 11th, 2019 3:42 PM
By Bob Skolnik
When most school administrators lose their jobs, they quietly leave and move on to another school district.
And, while Robinson School Principal Al Molina tentatively has been hired to be a principal next year in Cicero School District 99, he is not leaving Lyons School District 103 quietly.
On May 22, Molina filed a lawsuit accusing District 103 teachers union President Toni Jackman of defaming him and scheming with former Interim Superintendent Patrick Patt to force him out of his job at Robinson School.
Molina's lawsuit seeks $800,000 in damages.
"My character has been assassinated, and I'm not going to stand for it," said Molina last week in a telephone interview with the Landmark. "This comes down to exposing the horrific treatment I had received, and I'm just asking for justice."
Molina's lawsuit also takes aim at Patt, who is prominently mentioned in Molina's complaint, although Patt is not being sued.
"He bullied, intimidated and discriminated against me and was allowed to get away with it," Molina said. "Unfortunately, I cannot come forward with the lawsuit against him because he did not put anything in writing and he didn't do anything publicly."
In March, the school board voted 4 to 3 not to rehire Molina as principal after teachers at Robinson School voted no confidence in him a month earlier.
Molina claims Jackman orchestrated the no-confidence vote and has long been out to get him. Molina has been the principal at Robinson School in Lyons for the past 14 years. He and Jackman were once colleagues when they both taught at George Washington Middle School, where Jackman teaches seventh-grade science.
"She had always taken an adversarial approach toward me," Molina said. "I also believe that she doesn't like me and she will do anything to hurt me."
Molina's lawsuit claims Jackman has applied to be a principal 11 times, but has never been hired. Jackman declined to comment on that allegation when contacted by the Landmark last week. She declined to comment on the lawsuit, because she said that she had not yet been served with it.
"At this time, I don't have enough information to even make a comment," Jackman said.
Patt, who along with his colleague, Robert Madonia, abruptly resigned in April following the school board election, said that he was saddened by the lawsuit.
"It's a shame that Mr. Molina cannot take constructive criticism," Patt said.
Jackman has applied again to be a principal in District 103. The district is in the process of filling vacancies at both Robinson School and at Lincoln School. Molina claimed that two teachers on the Robinson principal interviewing committee are close allies of Jackman.
Molina's lawsuit claims that his workplace become toxic due to harassment from Patt and the teaching staff led by Jackman. Molina said the stress became so great for him that he had to take a medical leave in October. The lawsuit even claims that Molina was in fear of his life.
On Feb. 14, Jackman hand delivered to Madonia a letter signed by Jackman, a copy of which the Landmark has obtained. The letter was addressed to then-school board President Marge Hubacek and the Board of Education and outlined what Jackman said were longstanding concerns about Molina.
"Students and teachers have been bullied, harassed, and exposed to extremely inappropriate and highly unprofessional behavior," Jackman wrote.
Jackman's letter described the no-confidence vote in Molina. She wrote that ballots were distributed to 27 union members and the 26 were returned with a vote of no confidence in Molina. One teacher did not return her ballot.
"In all my years as an employee at D103, the membership has never resorted to such a vote," Jackman wrote. "The bargaining unit members of Robinson School are desperately seeking your assistance in rectifying the situation."
Later that month Jackman made a statement during the public comment period at a school board meeting, outlining the no-confidence vote, but not mentioning Molina by name.
At the next school board meeting, where Molina's principal contract was not renewed, speech pathologist Geoff Neddleman said that Robinson School teachers had long worked in a state of fear.
After hand delivering the letter to the school board, Jackman shared the letter with union members via a link in an email to district teachers at their personal email addresses. In that email Jackman urged teachers to not share the email or the letter.
"Please remember that this document is meant for membership eyes only," Jackman wrote. "Please do not forward the document or the link to anyone else, or share it on social media."
In the lawsuit, Molina claims that the contents of the letter were defamatory and harmed his reputation and that the public statements made it harder for him to find another job.
The lawsuit also claims teachers have told Molina that they are afraid Jackman would retaliate against them if they had supported him.
Molina said that he is open to settling the lawsuit.
"I didn't create this drama," Molina said. "I would prefer to have a settlement so that closure can be given, but I am prepared to go to trial because, again, this is just seeking justice for the malice that was done on to me."