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January 05. 2014 9:36PM

Manchester seeks dismissal of school board member’s lawsuit

MANCHESTER — The school district wants the court to throw out a lawsuit brought against it by a newly elected school board member.

The Manchester School District filed its motion last month in Hillsborough County Superior Court to dismiss the suit by Constance “Connie” Van Houten, a former longtime city teacher.

After she retired, Van Houten went to work as a part-time English instructor at the Manchester Adult Education Center, which is run by the district. Van Houten’s suit alleges that an administrator began to retaliate against her in the spring of 2012, after Van Houten raised concerns about a colleague not working a full shift. The suit claims Van Houten’s work was made more difficult, and ultimately she was not rehired for the fall term.

Van Houten filed the suit a week before she was elected as the Ward 12 school board representative. She did not reference the suit during her campaign.

In his response to the suit, Attorney Robert Meagher for the district denied that Van Houten had reported “time clock theft,” as the suit alleges.

“It is admitted that at some point, the plaintiff had a conversation with supervisors at the Adult Learning Center about a fellow employee who she said appeared to come in late on occasion. It is denied that the plaintiff alleged that this was ‘time clock theft,’” Meagher writes in the motion. “The fellow employee had personal issues and was allowed some flexibility in her schedule.”

Meagher further denies Van Houten’s claims that she was subject to retaliation, such as having her class sizes increased, after complaining about the employee.

“There was no harassment or retaliation,” Meagher writes.

Van Houten alleges that in August 2012, she met with the center’s administrators and was told she “would not be allowed to return to her position.” She had been told that the decision was based on a funding issue, but the suit asserts that all staff, including Van Houten’s replacement, had already been hired before the meeting.

But Meagher asserts that Van Houten was given the opportunity to teach night classes in the fall of 2012 (not morning classes), “but chose not to.”

Meagher further notes that there was no contract governing the employment of Van Houten.

“At the time that the plaintiff was not hired for the fall 2012 semester, there was no contract between the plaintiff and the defendant, and therefore no covenant of good faith and fair dealing,” the motion states.

Van Houten’s suit, which seeks unspecified damages, had originally named the City of Manchester as a defendant, along with the district. But Van Houten’s attorney, John Skinner, agreed to remove the city as a defendant in the suit at this stage, according to court documents.

Skinner declined to comment on the case last week.

Van Houten is slated to be sworn in as a member of the new school board Tuesday. She has not responded to inquiries about the lawsuit.

Skinner has said Van Houten would recuse herself if the lawsuit comes before the school board, which is likely.

He also has said that filing the lawsuit a week before the election was based on Van Houten’s desire to make it public and not in order to conceal it from the district at that time. The district was not officially served with the lawsuit until early December, according to court documents.

tsiefer@unionleader.com


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