The former principal of a Chicago public elementary school has sued the Chicago Public Schools and a CPS spokesman, alleging the spokesman and CPS defamed her and violated her privacy rights when they indicated to Chicago news organizations last year that the principal had been removed from her position over a potential investigation into her conduct, prompting reports to surface allegedly linking her to falsified enrollment and reimbursement reports.
On June 30, Alice Vera, former principal at Jose de Diego Elementary Community Academy in Wicker Park, filed a three-count complaint against CPS and Joel Hood, listed in the complaint as “the communications spokesperson for CPS.”
A LinkedIn profile for Hood lists his job title as CPS’ chief speechwriter and director of news affairs.
Vera’s complaint includes allegations of defamation, invasion of privacy and disclosure of private facts.
Vera has asked the court to award damages for at least $1 million, including $500,000 each in compensatory and punitive damages stemming from the allegations.
The case centers on news reports published by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times in the summer of 2014 concerning the removal of Vera and Michele Gulo, then-assistant principal, from their posts at Jose de Diego school.
In her complaint, Vera says she received a letter, dated June 30, 2014, purportedly from CPS Chief Wanda Washington, stating Vera had been “removed from ‘all duties and responsibilities as principal of Jose de Diego Elementary Community Academy’ with pay and benefits” and had been “barred … from entering her school or any CPS location.”
The letter, she said, included wording “in bold underlined print in its upper left hand corner” indicating the letter “is Personal and Confidential.”
The letter also indicated it had been copied to others, including Hood, the complaint asserts.
However, in the days following, articles were published by the local news organizations “stating they were informed by defendant Hood in his role as spokesman for CPS that (Vera) and her assistant principal had been removed as a result of an investigation.”
In the Sun-Times and Tribune, Hood was quoted as saying: “The Board’s Office of the Inspector General completed an investigation involving the principal and assistant principal assigned to De Diego Elementary School … Based on these investigative findings, the Board suspended both from their administrative responsibilities, but cannot comment further.”
The Tribune article further reported “a source close to the investigation said the district was looking into falsified enrollment information at the school as well as reimbursements filed by the school.”
In her complaint, Vera said her prior employment record with CPS, spanning 25 years as a teacher and administrator, had been free of any corrective actions.
“None of the accusations leveled at plaintiff (Vera) were or are true,” the complaint states.
She alleges her removal as principal was “confidential and personal” and she has never given permission to anyone at CPS to discuss the matter publicly.
“Hood and others made public statements concerning Alice Vera knowing that they were revealing (Vera’s) private and confidential information and further, that their statements to the press regarding falsification of school records were false and/or made with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity” the complaint states.
She said the allegedly false statements were made to subject Vera to “scorn, ridicule … and to suggest that she was guilty of commiting the crime of falisification of public records and to impeach (Vera’s) reputation and to cast a false light upon her.” She further alleged the statements were intended to harm her chances at working “as a principal or teacher with CPS or elsewhere.”
Vera is represented in the action by the Moran Law Group, of Chicago.