Jury rules in favor of KSD whistle-blower in wrongful termination lawsuit
Published 2:01 am Friday, July 14, 2023
BY LANCE GAITHER
On June 29, the Franklin Circuit Court jury ruled that former Kentucky School for the Deaf language arts teacher Deanna Glasser’s position was wrongfully non-renewed in 2019 by former principal Toyah Robey in retaliation for raising awareness about civil rights being denied for students at the school. The jury awarded Glasser $65,000 in compensatory damages and $175,000 in punitive damages.
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“There were glaring issues and no one was being held accountable,” Glasser said. “KSD has to be a beacon of light to help these children reach their full potential. It is what we are mandated to do.”
Glasser had raised concerns that Robey was failing to utilize interpreators when speaking with students and deaf/hard-of-hearing staff as required by state and federal law. Glasser said she also had concerns that many staff members, including Robey, had limited or no ability to communicate in ASL. She explained that not only was this lack of communication negatively affecting the education of students, it could also be dangerous in an emergency situation.
“You wouldn’t hire someone to be principal of Danville High School if they only spoke German,” Glasser said. “A principal should be able to communicate with their staff and students.”
Glasser’s attorney, JoEllen McComb, explained that Robey was not qualified to be the school’s principal.
“Ms. Robey had no background in deaf education or experience as a principal,” McComb said. “That combination was very problematic for the school.”
Glasser stated that 33 students were without speech language services for 3 months. Robey had reassigned one of the school’s existing speech language therapists the previous year and did not fill the position. Glasser stated that Robey initially blamed the delay in filling the vacant position on red tape.
“It was Ms. Glasser who continued to shine a light on this issue. The rights of the students there should be paramount,” McComb said.
Despite multiple attempts to reach out to the Kentucky School for the Deaf for comment regarding the outcome of the case or actions that have been taken to rectify the issues which caused Glasser’s concerns, KSD has not provided comment. Robey retired from her position as principal on June 30.
Glasser’s suit further alleged that she along with other teachers fluent in ASL were called upon to assist students experiencing mental health or other personal issues. Despite Glasser’s attempts to refer students to the appropriate mental health services, Robey wrongfully claimed that Glasser was not doing so.
The Kentucky Department of Education oversees KSD. On Feb. 26, 2019, then commissioner of education, Wayne Lewis, along with his team visited KSD for a meeting with Robey and many other members of the KSD staff. During this meeting, Glasser raised her concerns to Lewis. Her employment was not renewed a little more than two weeks later, she said.
Although Glasser did not provide the exact reasons Robey gave for her non-renewal, Glasser said that they called into question her competence and dedication as a deaf educator.
“There was no question in the proof that Deanna Glasser was a highly qualified and dedicated deaf educator, had taught and participated in research in deaf education for 25 years at the time she worked as a teacher of language arts and reading at KSD 2016-2018, had received exemplary evaluations, was fluent in American Sign Language, and contributed in numerous other ways to staff and students at KSD,” McComb said. “We believe the contrast between Mrs. Glasser’s qualifications and Ms. Robey’s lack of training and experience in Deaf education and ASL lead the jury to reject Ms. Robey’s previously undocumented or unsupported reasons for non-renewal as unworthy of belief.”
McComb stated that she believes the money the jury awarded Glasser not only serves to restore her monetary damages, but as a reminder to other educators that the civil rights of students and that whistle-blower complaints are to be taken seriously. Glasser hopes that even though the verdict shows the flaws in the school’s leadership at the time, that it doesn’t reflect badly on the school as a whole.
The Kentucky Civil Rights Act prohibits retaliation for those who oppose discriminatory practices. In addition, Glasser’s actions were protected by the Kentucky Whistle-blower Act. Glasser now works for the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind.
Although the court case officially list current Commissioner of Education Jason Glass as a defendant, the issues discussed during the trial occurred before he was appointed to the position.