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If the PR and political fallout from Chancellor Michelle Rhee‘s inflammatory comments to Fast Company magazine weren’t distracting enough, turns out there’s some legal ramifications as well: City lawyers will now have to expend time and money swatting away a lawsuit.
Ronnie Jones, one of the 229 teachers laid off in last September’s “reduction in force,” filed suit in D.C. Superior Court on Feb. 18 claiming defamation, false light, and intentional infliction of emotional distress—-all this due to Rhee’s quote about removing “teachers who hit children, who had sex with children, who had missed 78 days of school.”
Rhee’s comments, the lawsuit claims, were “in furtherance of her plan to discredit the D.C. Public School teachers who were fired under the pretext of a RIF….At the time defendant Rhee made the statement alleged above, she knew it to be false and without merit.” Furthermore, co-defendant Mayor Adrian M. Fenty “instead of disavowing and correcting the erroneous statement of defendant Rhee, all but ratified her comments and reiterated that she was doing a great job and was in fact the premier superintendent in the country.”
For the record: “At no time did plaintiff ever engage in any of the inappropriate conduct alleged and the defendants know that to be the case.”
Jones claims he “continues to suffer from severe and irreparable injury in his profession and community standing” and has “suffered permanent damage to his reputation as a law-abiding citizen of high moral character.”
His attorney is Gregory Lattimer, no stranger to the Office of the Attorney General. You might remember him from his bulldog pursuit of the DeOnté Rawlings case.
Jones is seeking some $30 million in relief—-$15 million each in compensatory and punitive damages. Getting any kind of judgment will be a tall order, however—-proving that Rhee knew her comments were “false and without merit” when she was spoke them will be a tough sell, to say the least. Especially when records show that, while Rhee’s utterance wasn’t precise, it reflected more than a grain of truth.