Belleville special education cooperative settles lawsuit with former worker for $250,000

What is the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative?

Here are answers to questions about what the Belleville, IL, based education cooperative does, who works there and how it’s funded.
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Here are answers to questions about what the Belleville, IL, based education cooperative does, who works there and how it’s funded.

A Belleville woman recently received a $250,000 settlement after alleging in a federal lawsuit that she was forced to quit working for the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative two years before her planned retirement.

The cooperative, which provides special education services to area students and schools, denied the accusations in the lawsuit and argued it should be dismissed, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge David Herndon denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit last year.

Ruth Hamerski, of Belleville, had originally asked for $173,000 when she sued in 2016 for loss of wages and benefits and for damage to her personal and professional reputation, emotional distress, humiliation, outrage and embarrassment, according to the lawsuit.

Jeff Daugherty, the special education cooperative’s executive director, said it runs on state and federal funding, as well as the money local school districts pay to use its services. The cooperative itself doesn’t collect property taxes. Its insurers paid the $250,000 settlement on June 15.

Daugherty declined to comment on the decision to give Hamerski $77,000 more than she asked for in the 2016 complaint.

The terms of the settlement agreement are confidential. The Belleville News-Democrat obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request. It states that the cooperative, Hamerski and their attorneys aren’t allowed to discuss the terms.

Hamerski filed the lawsuit after resigning from her position as an administrator for the Belleville Area Special Services Cooperative on June 30, 2015.

She had been investigated earlier in 2015 for alleged misconduct, which she denies.

In a March 19, 2015, letter from the cooperative’s executive board chairman, Hamerski was told she was suspended with pay and could either resign or accept a demotion to a lower-paying teaching position.

The demotion would also affect her retirement pay, which made it “something no one in their right mind would do,” according to her lawsuit. Hamerski alleges those options forced her to quit.

She told supervisors in 2013 that she had wanted to retire when her contract was going to end in 2017.

The lawsuit alleges that the cooperative violated Hamerski’s Fourteenth Amendment rights and breached the contract it had with her because she wasn’t allowed to respond to accusations against her.

The cooperative, known locally as BASSC, argued in court documents that she resigned before trying to respond to the accusations.

Hamerski’s lawsuit also alleged that the options the cooperative gave her were retaliation for advocating for students. She said officials told her the “most serious” allegation of misconduct against her was enforcing a policy that restricted the use of arrests, isolation, seclusion and restraint on students, according to the lawsuit.

She had also been questioned about allegations that she was negligent in her duties to train teachers; that she lied about eight claimed work days in 2014; that she told a peer he wasn’t her supervisor; and whether she told a subordinate administrator to keep illegal, confiscated drugs in his desk. She denied the accusations, calling them “utter nonsense” in the lawsuit.

Hamerski alleges that a superintendent on the executive board — whose wife, Hamerski said, had been removed from her job at the cooperative by a security guard — sought out disgruntled employees with accusations. The cooperative denied that allegation in its responses to the lawsuit.

The superintendent Hamerski names in the lawsuit is Matt Stines from Fairview Height’s Grant District 110. He deferred comment to Daugherty, the executive director at the cooperative.

Larry Bagsby, Hamerski’s attorney, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

In another settlement agreement this summer, the cooperative’s insurers paid $40,000 to a former student who had been injured. The name of the student was redacted in the document released to the BND.

The cooperative denied any liability in both of the settlement agreements.