North Idaho College instructor Sharon Smith has filed a second lawsuit against the college, this time claiming she was unjustly suspended because she complained about toxic work conditions.
Smith, a learning center reading specialist, already has sued the college for permanent injuries she alleges are a result of toxic exposure at NIC’s Hedlund Building. This latest suit, filed last week, claims that her complaints and attempts to seek damages are directly related to why she was suspended from her job.
Smith is alleged to have changed grades, but NIC officials have yet to provide substantial proof or a hearing process for Smith to defend herself. An internal investigation apparently is nearing its end.
Named in the suit are Dean of Instruction Jerry Gee, former NIC president Robert Bennett, Dean of Administration Rolly Jurgens and learning center instructor Kris Wold.
Smith claims she suffered permanent injuries as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals in NIC’s Hedlund Building, and that those injuries constitute a handicap under the American Disabilities Act. She’s alleging she was discriminated against because of her health handicap and retaliated against for speaking out about her health problems, violating both civil and free speech rights.
A flier circulated around campus after Smith was suspended last fall claimed students witnessed Smith being interrupted during class by Human Resources Director Joe Cheesman, who escorted her to her office, demanded her keys and ordered her off campus. As she left campus, Gee allegedly followed her in his truck to Sherman Avenue.
The incident also was recently referred to in faculty member Fran Bahr’s July letter to the board of trustees.
“This unprecedented action humiliated and frightened the woman and thoroughly intimidated other NIC employees. Regardless of her innocence or guilt, this action was clearly extreme,” Bahr wrote.
According to the suit, Smith claims to have suffered emotional distress, loss of self-esteem and humiliation, partly because she has yet had a chance to defend her actions.
Smith’s attorney, Amy Clemmons, declined comment.
NIC’s attorney Dana Wetzel said she received a copy of the complaint Saturday, but noted that NIC had not yet been served. She declined further comment.
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