Ex-St. Charles school staffer says district, schools took her copyrighted computer program, then fired her

By Dan Churney | May 11, 2017

A former school district computer lab staffer is alleging the suburban St. Charles school district for which she worked infringed her copyright for a spreadsheet software program, then bullied her into quitting her job after she disputed the alleged infringement.

Audrey Shanton worked as a computer lab assistant for almost 12 years with St. Charles Community Unit School District 303, leaving the district last year.

Shanton, and her husband, Kenneth Shanton, filed a lawsuit March 30 in Kane County Circuit Court against the school district, alleging the district infringed the copyright on a software program they crafted, then hassled Audrey into quitting, after she took issue. Audrey included teachers union, the Illinois Education Association, in the suit, alleging the union did not help her in her fight with administrators over the alleged infringement.

The Shantons amended the suit May 5. On the same day, the district and union filed a request to have the case moved to federal court in Chicago, saying copyright infringement is governed by federal law and the case belongs in federal court.

The suit revolves around a spreadsheet software program the Shantons said they developed and copyrighted in 2005, to help monitor a variety of subjects. Audrey said she started using the program at St. Charles' Wredling Middle School two years later to “monitor students, obtain data and develop patterns.” In 2008, the Shanton couple rewrote the program to specifically “track, monitor and otherwise assess student attendance.”

The program was marked with their copyright, the Shantons said.

Use of the program spread to other schools in the district. Audrey said she then verbally agreed to rewrite the program, with her husband, and allow its use by the district, with the understanding the program was not to be changed or further shared without the Shantons’ permission.

The arrangement soured in 2015, when St. Charles East High School allegedly started using a copy of the Shanton program, which had been “reverse engineered” by a staff member at the high school. Audrey said she notified administrators of the copyright infringement, leading to what she termed a “threatening and intimidatory” voice mail from Charles Kyle, principal at East High School. In the same message, Kyle nonetheless acknowledged the program belonged to the Shantons, the suit alleged.

Meetings took place between Audrey and East High School officials, at which Audrey was told the program belonged to the school district, the suit said. Audrey was called a "liar" and was “treated as a pariah," with her working conditions going from “ideal to an atmosphere of harassment and intimidation,” causing her to resign April 8, 2016, according to the suit.

In leaving the district's employ when she did, Audrey said she lost a $15,000 lump sum retirement payment and had to accept a reduced pension. Audrey is claiming she has suffered "severe anxiety" as a result of her treatment by school officials.

Audrey alleged the district employees' union knew she was being “bullied and intimidated” by the district, but failed to adequately defend her, despite her request for help. Her union, the St. Charles Educational Support Professionals Association, is affiliated with the Illinois Education Association.

The Shantons are represented by Dwyer Law Office, of St. Charles.

St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 is defended by Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn, of suburban Arlington Heights.

The district's employee union is defended by lawyer Robert P. Lyons, of the Illinois Education Association in Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Education Association Kane County Sixteenth Judicial Circuit St. Charles Community Unit School District 303 U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

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