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School district rebuffs Coryea lawsuit

By Elliot Mann

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Rochester public schools attorneys are asking a judge to dismiss a wrongful termination lawsuit brought last month by the district’s former finance director.

Cheryl Coryea was Rochester public schools’ finance director from 2005 to January 2008, when she was terminated. While the school district has declined to release why she was fired, Coryea contends that she was let go in retaliation for exposing a discriminatory hiring scheme.

She alleges that Superintendent Romain Dallemand refused to hire non-minority candidates for a wellness director position, according to the complaint filed in Olmsted County District Court. Coryea is seeking monetary damages in excess of $50,000, related to emotional distress and unpaid salary.

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But Tuesday, school district legal counsel Nancy Vollertsen said the new complaint fell out of required timelines.

Coryea first filed a discrimination charge with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in October 2008, according to the school district. Those charges were dismissed that December, leaving Coryea 45 days to file lawsuit in state court.

The school district maintains that because Coryea did not do so in time, the civicl complaint should be thrown out.

Vollertsen said the discrimination complaint was dismissed because there was "no evidence to substantiate" Coryea’s allegations.

Representatives from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights did not return calls for comment Wednesday afternoon.

However, Coryea’s attorney Todd Johnson replied that the previous complaint was dismissed because it wasn’t appropriate for the department to handle. Johnson said he brought the lawsuit forward because he felt it has merit.

Typically, the school district would need to reply with an answer to allegations in the complaint. That would need to be filed sometime in August, before the complaint’s Sept. 2 hearing date. However, the motion for dismissal could delay that. The court typically takes anywhere from 30 days to 90 days to decide on that move, after the Sept. 2 hearing.

In a statement, school board chair Mechelle Severson said the district is committed to moving past the allegations.

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"Ms. Coryea’s allegations have already been investigated and dismissed. We hope this matter will be resolved quickly and end the false rumors and speculation surrounding it," Severson said.

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