ROCHESTER, Mich. (AP) — A suburban Detroit school district agreed to pay nearly $190,000 to settle a lawsuit by a parent who said she lost her job after criticizing COVID-19 policies.
The Rochester district released the agreement Tuesday after a public records request by The Associated Press.
Controversies over masks, online learning, in-person instruction and other issues have hit schools across the U.S. during the pandemic. But the allegations in Rochester were extraordinary: Elena Dinverno accused the district of making calls that caused her to be fired from her marketing job.
Dinverno participated in Facebook groups that were in favor of reopening Rochester schools for in-person instruction in 2020. She said she frequently questioned the school board’s decisions.
Rochester acknowledged that a deputy superintendent, Debra Fragomeni, called Dinverno’s employer, though attorneys denied any wrongdoing.
Nonetheless, the district agreed to pay $116,209 to Dinverno and $72,540 to her attorney to settle the lawsuit, records show.
Dinverno said her free-speech rights were violated when the district retaliated by calling her employer.
“They have zero business policing her speech,” attorney Deborah Gordon said in 2021 when the lawsuit was filed.
The agreement bars Gordon and the district from discussing the settlement.
School officials sat for formal interviews with attorneys during the litigation. Spokeswoman Lori Grein described how the district kept a close eye on social media at the direction of Superintendent Robert Shaner, The Detroit News reported.
“We compile information on so much. ... It’s what we do. We monitor,” Grein said in her deposition. “What we do is get a pulse of the community on so much. This is just one part of what we do.”