The Manhattan School District filed suit Monday in Gallatin County District Court against former elementary teacher Adam Priquette for breach of contract for suing the district in federal court last month.
The school district claimed Priquette broke a deal that he made with the school when he resigned last year, according to court documents.
Priquette and the Manhattan School Board signed a negotiated agreement that provided the former teacher with health benefits, salary, severance pay and other amenities in exchange for Priquette’s pledge not to sue the district.
Since Priquette filed suit in a Butte federal court claiming he was let go without “just cause,” the district said he did not fulfill his end of the bargain, according to the case.
“Priquette’s breach of the resignation agreement has deprived the school district of its primary benefit under the resignation agreement, that being Priquette’s agreement to release and discharge the school district and its employees from all claims or causes of action arising from or related to his employment with the school district,” school attorneys wrote in the suit.
“At the same time, Priquette has received every benefit to which he was entitled under the resignation agreement, including monthly payments and health insurance coverage since October 18, 2011,” attorneys added.
In court documents, the school district said the breach has caused “disruption” of day-to-day operations and incurred attorney costs, as well as put the school district at “risk of suffering further monetary damages” depending on the outcome of the federal court ruling.
As a result, the district is calling for Priquette to withdraw his federal suit and to reimburse the district for “all costs and expenses, including attorney fees, incurred in defense of the federal court action.”
If that doesn’t happen, the district wants Priquette to pay back his salary, health insurance coverage and other fringe benefits paid to him under the terms of his settlement, court records show. The district also wants Priquette to pay for any potential “monetary awards and/or damages” stemming from possible federal court action, according to the suit.
The situation started last year when a parent complained that Priquette harmed her child, according to school records. The incident spurred an investigation by the district and the Manhattan Police Department. Priquette was placed on administrative leave May 19, 2011, and resigned Oct. 24 after negotiating with the school.
The police did not file charges, but the Montana School Board Association, which conducted an investigation, outlined a pattern of physical and emotional abuse by the teacher. The report outlines numerous allegations that can be substantiated and some that could not.
Priquette was denied access to the report, which is one of the main reasons he is suing the district, according to the federal suit served last month. The suit also says the district violated the teacher’s constitutional rights, breached his contract and that he was not given “due process of law.”
Priquette also said the district did not issue a letter of recommendation afforded to him by the agreement, according to the federal suit. But the school district said in its district court suit, the teacher was given “10 letters of recommendation on school district letterhead.”
Providing the recommendation sparked an outcry by Manhattan residents, but Manhattan School Board members have said the letter only claimed Priquette was employed by the school district.
Another discrepancy revolves around the time Priquette was given to decide whether to resign, according to both suits.
Priquette’s lawyer said the educator was given 48 hours to make a choice, but the school’s lawyers said the time frame was longer.
According to the school, Superintendent Jim Notaro met with Priquette on Sept. 15, 2011. Notaro told the teacher he was going to recommend to the board to terminate his contract and proposed an alternative to negotiate a resignation agreement.
Priquette was given until Sept. 19 to make a decision, and the teacher contacted the school Sept. 21 to negotiate, according to the school’s suit. Priquette signed the agreement Oct. 18, and trustees approved the agreement Oct. 24.
The issue will now play out in the federal and district court systems.