A former Biloxi Public Schools employee is suing the Mississippi district in federal court after she alleges she was fired for calling out the superintendent’s illegal use of school resources for a daughter’s wedding.
The ordeal started when Victoria Conway, an administrative assistant to child nutrition director Dixie Eleuterius, learned former superintendent Arthur McMillan used district money and employees for his daughter’s wedding in May 2018 and attempted to report the “illegal activities” to a school board member, the Sun Herald reports.
Conway and her mother, 38-year district employee Lee Ann Dubaz, compiled a list of complaints about the wedding activities and other allegations from district employees and took it to board member Jane Meynardie in hopes the district would investigate.
“Among the illegal activities included on the list were allegations McMillan utilized school equipment and school employees during school hours to deliver and set up tables for his daughter’s 2018 wedding,” WLOX reports.
“In addition to giving that information to Meynardie, it was also reported by Conway’s mother to the state auditor’s office, which launched an investigation in October 2018.”
McMillan also obtained a copy of the list of complaints and traced the source back to Conway with the help of Business Manager Shane Switzer. Conway was then harassed by Eleuterius, the lawsuit claims, until she was terminated in November 2018, when she wrote a public letter to the district about the situation.
The retaliatory behavior led to Dixie Eleuterius, Conway’s immediate supervisor, harassing Conway in various ways, including refusing to speak to her, slamming doors and file cabinets, tossing paperwork, and shutting Conway out of her office, said the lawsuit. …
The actions of her supervisor became so distressing to her that Conway said she was forced to seek treatment from the psychological harm.
After Conway went public, writing a letter of complaint to the school board in November 2018 detailing the harassment, she said her job was terminated. The lawsuit states the decision not to renew her employment contract was made as a result of her reporting the illegal activity and speaking out publicly about it, a decision Conway defends as a First Amendment right to free speech regarding an issue of public concern.
The State Auditor’s Office launched an investigation into the allegations in late 2018, but officials there refuse to discuss the outcome with the media. School board members hired an attorney to conduct an internal investigation, but his findings were not made public. Instead, they were submitted to the school board in an executive session, which are closed to the public.
About two weeks later, the board accepted McMillan’s resignation. McMillan blamed his departure on his ailing mother. Dubaz, a 38-year district employee who previously worked as administrative assistant to the superintendent, was moved to a different position as school board clerk and district historian, WLOX reports.
“In addition to the school district and McMillan, Conway is suing district Business Manager Shane Switzer, who is responsible for finances; her former supervisor, Dixie Eleuterius, director of the Child Nutrition Program; and school board president Jim Wallis,” the Sun Herald reports.
“In the lawsuit, Conway claims malicious interference with her job and civil conspiracy. Her attorney, Jim Waide of Tupelo, filed the lawsuit in federal court because, the lawsuit says, the district violated her First Amendment right to free speech.”
Conway plans to amend the complaint to include violations of state and school whistleblower policies.
“She is seeking compensation for lost income, mental anxiety and psychological damage, plus punitive damages. She also wants to recover attorney’s fees and reasonable expenses,” according to the news site.