Lisa Shellum v. Independent School District #836 agreement now available to the public
On a split vote at the Monday, April 24 meeting of the Butterfield-Odin Public School (B-OPS) School Board meeting, members approved the terms of a settlement of the lawsuit brought by Lisa Shellum, former B-OPS Superintendent and Principal, against the school district, as set forth in the written settlement and agreement signed and dated by Shellum on Friday, April 21, 2017.
The vote on acceptance of the settlement was held following a lengthy closed meeting per Attorney/Client Privilege communications regarding the litigation of Lisa Shellum v Independent School District #836. Voting in favor of the settlement were B-OPS School Board Chair Kristy Haseman, B-OPS School Board Vice-Chair Pam Xayaphonesongkham, B-OPS School Board Clerk Renae Meyer and B-OPS School Board Treasurer Shannon Sykes. Opposed were B-OPS School Board Directors Joel Penner, Leon Wenner and Andy Pierson.
The settlement agreement became possible when the school board approved proceeding with mediation at a Thursday, March 28 meeting. That mediation was held on Wednesday, April 5, in United States District Court-District of Minnesota, and was facilitated by Judy Langevin. Attorneys for Shellum were Fabian May & Anderson, PLLP (Nicholas G. B. May). Representing Independent School District #836 were Kennedy & Graven, Chartered (Maggie R. Wallner).
Details of the agreement were not available following the decision at the April 24 school board meeting.
Following the 15-day recession period, the settlement agreement is now available to the public upon request in the school office. It is public information.
Included in the settlement agreement packet is a statement by the B-OPS School Board: The lawsuit brought by former superintendent, Lisa Shellum, against Independent School District #836. was settled last month after the parties participated in mediation. The settlement means that the lawsuit will be dismissed, and the distsrict has certainty that any other possible lawsuits of claims regarding matters arising prior to the settlement have been waived. Litigation is a long and costly process – both in time and money. It was for that reason that the lawsuit was settled. The settlement does not indicate that Ms. Shellum’s lawsuit had any merit; nor does it indicate any wrong-doing. This settlement will eliminate the financial cost of the District’s insurance carrier (Continental Western Insurance Company) of defending the lawsuit, as well as the time involved in litigation; and we believe it will bring a difficult period to a close. Our number one priority is our students. The Butterfield-Odin District will remain focused on our mission to provide the best learning environment possible for every student.
Upon releasing the statement, Half-Time Superintendent Ray Arsenault (who was given a three-year contract at a Thursday, May 11 special board meeting) echoed those sentiments, “We (school district) are moving forward. The public wants a strong school here, and we intend to deliver.”
Settlement agreement details
The settlement agreement which both parties – Lisa Shellum (Plaintiff) and Independent School District #836 (Defendant) – approved is as follows:
- Plaintiff and Defendant (including the school district’s insurance carrier, Continental Western Insurance Company) released all claims against each other.
- Both Plaintiff and Defendant stipulate the Dismissal With Prejudice of the Lawsuit, Lisa Shellum v. Independent School District #836, without costs or expenses to either party.
- Defendant, and its insurer, Continental Western, will pay the Plaintiff the total gross amount of $300,000, with $275,000 coming from Continental Westerrn and $25,000 from the Defendant. A check in the gross amount of $44,250.93, payable to the Plaintiff (less federal, state, local and other applicable taxes and withholdings to be calculated at Plaintiff’s rate of withholding as of her last date of employment with the Defendant). This payment will be reported to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on Form W-2. A check in the gross amount of $132,752.77, payable to the Plaintiff will represent consideration for claimed non-wage damages. This payment will be reported to the IRS in box 3 of Form 1099-MISC. A check in the gross amount of $122,996.30, payable to the Plaintiff’s counsel, Fabian May & Anderson, PLLP, for attorney’s fees and costs. This paymemt will be reported to the IRS on Form 1099-MISC.
- Defendant will pay Plaintiff’s share (50%) of mediator’s fees for the April 5 mediation.
- Defendant is responsible for its entire mediation cost related to the April 5 mediatioin.
- Agreement represents a compromise of disputed claims and is not an admission or indication by Defendant or Plaintiff that either engaged in any wrongdoing or violated any rights, and each will contend that the settlement agreement can be considered as an admission.
- Plaintiff will not make any disparaging or negative remarks, either orally or in writing, regarding the Defendant concerning acts or events that occurred prior to the agreement, including any past or present school board members, officers, employees or agents of the defendant; nor or will she intentionally request others make such comments or remarks.
- Defendant will not make any disparaging or negative remarks, either orally or in writing, regarding the Plaintiff concerning acts or events that occurred prior to the agreement; nor intentionally request others make such comments or remarks.
- Defendant agreed to send a letter (Exhibit A) to the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office stating that the district does not have any interest in the Sheriff’s Department or Watonwan County Attorney’s Office continuing an investigation into Ms. Shellum related to her conduct while an employee of the district.
- Defendant agreed to send a letter (Exhibit B) to the Minnesota Board of Administrators stating that the district has now closed its own investigation into all matters related to Ms, Shellum’s employment, including the issues related to reimbursement and expenses.
- Defendant agreed to remove the following items from the Plaintiff’s personnel file – 1.) Review of Plaintiff in her capacity as superintendent, conducted in 2015; 2.) The April 18, 2016 Letter of Reprimand authored by former Interim B-OPS Half-Time Superintendent Sandi Novak and 3.) The May 25, 2016 Letter of Reprimand authored by B-OPS Half-Time Superintendent Sandi Novak.
- Plaintiff relinquishes any and all rights to future employment by the Defendant and to any future contractual relationship with Defendant.
- Plaintiff further agrees that her employment relationship with Defendant is permanently and irrevocably severed, and she will not apply for or otherwise seek reemployment by Defendant at any time, and that Defendant has no obligation to hire or employ her in the future in any capacity.
History of the lawsuit
On December 9, 2016, former Butterfield-Odin Public School Half-Time Superintendent/Half-Time Principal Shellum filed a civil lawsuit against the school district in federal court alleging her termination was the result of whistle-blower retaliation. In the lawsuit, Shellum alleged the school board majority four members at the time discriminated against her by ordering a principal performance review that was different than the one conducted on the district’s other principal. The suit also alleged that the review results were illegally shared with the public. The third portion of her suit alleged that a quorum of board members met illegally. The suit, listing discrimination, violations of data practices and being unfairly targeted for unknowingly reporting a false report, was seeking financial damages of $75,000 or more.
Days after the lawsuit was filed, the district released at the school board’s December 19, 2016 monthly meeting the findings from two investigations conducted by lawyers at the request of the board. The investigations of misconduct were approved by the board on May 31, 2016. They alleged Shellum illegally obtained expense reimbursements, extra compensation for work done and the possibility of providing false information for reported expenses. It was also alleged that she sought to sabotage the school district’s on-site day care, as well as the hiring of a new superintendent because of the reports of her being fired and for allegations that she was about to expose the board for violating open meeting laws.
Because Shellum is considered a “public official” under Minnesota’s data privacy law, most of the information contained in the reports was considered public information, and were to be provided to the public upon request. Some information in the reports needed to be redacted, but the majority of the information was public. The complete report is 300+ pages, but report summaries completed by the two firms that conducted the investigations – Sally J. Ferguson of Arthur Chapman Kettering Smetak & Pikala, P. A., Attorneys At Law, and James K. Martin of the Booth Law Group – a total of 11 pages.
Shellum was placed on leave from her post as half-time superintendent in January 2016. That half-time superintendent contract expired at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. She continued as half-time principal until her June resignation, citing that a hostile work environment forced her to leave.