A Shakopee woman, Tara McNeally, who was fired from her job after questioning her children’s school board, has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court against the school and her former employer.
The lawsuit filed by McNeally reportedly asks for “compensatory and punitive damages,” and seeks to prohibit the defendants from “engaging in wrongful conduct.” McNeally is requesting a jury trial for those involved.
McNeally’s attorney, Steven Cerny, spoke to Southwest News Media about the case. Cerny said, “Public officials cannot retaliate against someone for expressing viewpoints on matters of public concern, nor can they coordinate with a private party to retaliate against someone because they disagree with that person’s position. Such actions violate the First Amendment and both the public officials and private parties who engaged in the retaliation may be held liable under federal law. We look forward to righting the wrong that was inflicted on Ms. McNeally and hopefully deterring similar conduct from occurring in the future.”
The Minnesota Sun reported, “Shakopee School Board Chair Kristi Peterson reported [McNeally], who is a single mother, to her employer for criticizing the actions of Shakopee’s school board members.
“The mother criticized the way two Shakopee School Board members handled the testimony of the parent of a special needs child and her struggles with masking.” The comment from McNeally that got her in trouble was on a Facebook post, where she wrote:
I personally was really disappointed in board member Kristi Peterson tonight. She was turning around to watch the time clock while Amanda was speaking about her daughter’s struggle with her disability and masking. She did it multiple times! So rude. I know that most people don’t have ill will towards these children … but that lady showed she has NO HEART! Who does that???
At HomeTown Bank fired McNeally from her position, which KARE 11 reported has a branch inside of Shakopee High School. In her lawsuit, she argues her First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated because she was “terminated by her employer for criticizing the school district and officials.”
Southwest News Media reported the defendants named in the lawsuit include “HomeTown Bank; HomeTown Bank Branch Manager and Vice President Lindsey Puffer; Shakopee Public Schools; the Shakopee School Board; Superintendent Mike Redmond and School Board Chair Kristi Peterson.”
Southwest News Media also said the lawsuit details the events, beginning on September 27, when McNeally posted the Facebook comment. According to the suit, McNeally’s boss Lindsey Puffer sent her a text message the next day asking her to remove the comment because the school board was uncomfortable with it.
Then, Shakopee Schools Superintendent Mike Redmond allegedly sent a letter to HomeTown Bank, where McNeally worked, on September 29, “saying he found McNeally’s comment about Peterson to be ‘inappropriate and demeaning’ and explained how the district would handle a situation like this moving forward if the person involved was a Shakopee Public Schools employee.”
She was then placed on unpaid administrative leave immediately and her employment was terminated on October 12.
Following McNeally’s unpaid leave, the Shakopee School District released a statement that said, “At no point did anyone from the district request that the bank suspend its employee. Nor did anyone from the district ask the bank to take any disciplinary action. Any actions taken by the bank are independent of the partner’s relationship with the district.”
The Shakopee School District has said it will not comment on any pending litigation.
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Hayley Feland is a reporter with The Minnesota Sun and The Wisconsin Daily Star | Star News Network. Follow Hayley on Twitter or like her Facebook page. Send news tips to [email protected].
Photo “Shakopee High School” by Shakopee High School.