The one-time administrator of an alternative high school in Lake Villa has sued his former employer, accusing the superintendent and other employees of improperly accessing his personal email and using it to further an investigation that led to his termination.
Kent Sullens, former director of the Gateway Educational School, an alternative school for students in drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs, filed suit Feb. 7 in Chicago's federal court against Community High School District 117, district Superintendent Jim McKay; Sullens’ former secretary, Bonnie Griffin; and teacher Kara Graham.
In the complaint, Sullens alleges he suffered “personal anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, and pain and suffering” stemming from the loss of his job that followed an investigation into his conduct.
He claims the three district employees conspired to obtain his email password, comb through his personal emails and use their content to justify his termination, allegedly for taking district property for personal use.
Sullens is being represented in the action by attorneys Shelly B. Kulwin, Jeffrey B. Kulwin and Rachel Katz of Kulwin, Masciopinto & Kulwin LLP in Chicago.
The suit comes months after the district publicly confirmed that Sullens would not continue in his role as director of the Gateway School.
According to the complaint, Sullens had held that position since 2005, when he was promoted to the post after 19 years as a teacher in District 117, which serves the suburban communities of Antioch, Lake Villa, Lindenhurst and Old Mill Creek, and surrounding areas in northwest Lake County.
The suit states that in 2012, because of a rent dispute with the Gateway Foundation, District 117 opted to relocate the Gateway school to a smaller building. The reduced space required the district to dispose of “significant amounts of obsolete and/or unusable school materials and excess, old classroom furniture," a task given to Sullens to lead.
Later that year, Sullens asserts McKay and the district launched an investigation into his conduct.
In March 2013, District 117 fired Sullens for “alleged theft of school property as allegedly corroborated by emails taken from Sullens’ personal email account,” the complaint states.
However, Sullens maintains he never authorized any district employees to read his personal emails, and the district employees named in the suit had done so surreptitiously.
Sullens admits in the suit that he provided Griffin, his former secretary, with his personal email password in 2010 for a specific task at the time, but did not authorize her to share that information with others.
Yet, somehow, Sullens asserts, his personal email password was shared with Graham, a teacher at the school who along with Griffin, accessed his email “in an effort ‘to gather more evidence’ to provide to McKay for District 117’s investigation.”
Copies of emails were then provided to McKay and other district employees not named in the suit, Sullens alleges, specifically noting that McKay directed Graham to provide him with copies of the emails.
The suit states District 117 later in 2013 used those emails “to support the validity of its termination of Sullens during a mandatory arbitration hearing” regarding the matter.
Sullens claims the district and the employees violated federal law and engaged in a civil conspiracy to violate his privacy.
He also implies that he may have been targeted by McKay, after Sullens and a former District 117 superintendent in 2012 did not include McKay in their plan to open a private school for children with special needs, despite having included him in previous conversations on the idea.
Sullens asked the court to award him at least $1 million in damages.
It appears that District 117 has not yet publicly commented on Sullens’ dismissal, as McKay told the Lake County News-Sun earlier last year that an investigation was underway and “it’s an ongoing personnel matter.”