RUTLAND — A former Peoples Academy teacher is suing Lamoille South Supervisory Union Superintendent Tracy Wrend, alleging she fired him in 2014 in retaliation for being critical of Wrend and encouraging the local union to cast a “no confidence” vote against her.
Wrend and other supervisory union officials contend that former teacher David Bain was fired for his own bad choices, including “very negative behaviors.”
The jury trial in the case began on Monday in the U.S. District Court of Vermont’s courthouse in Rutland.
Bain is requesting damages for wrongful termination if the eight-member jury, which has five men and three women, find in his favor.
Attorney Chandler Matson, who represents Bain, described his client as someone who only ever wanted to be a teacher.
Bain taught for 25 years in Morrisville and first got to know Wrend as a colleague while teaching junior high school classes early in his career.
But Bain was also a firm believer in teacher’s unions, organizations to which both his parents belonged, Matson said.
In February 2014, Bain convened a meeting of the executive members of the teachers union at Lamoille South.
“David wanted to address concerns that teachers were being targeted, that teachers were being subjected to a hostile environment, that teachers were being bullied and that the schools were being run incorrectly,” Matson said.
According to Matson, the union members agreed they wanted to support a vote of “no confidence” in the administration but feared retaliation.
Matson said Bain’s real problems at the supervisory union began when he made it clear that he planned to run for president of the teacher’s union.
“Not long after that meeting, suddenly everything goes wrong for David,” Matson said.
Matson said Wrend began calling him to her office repeatedly, although Bain had previously had only one disciplinary issue.
The experience “wrecked him,” Matson said.
However, attorney Pietro Lynn, who represented Wrend and the Lamoille South Supervisory Union (LSSU), said he would present information to the jury that is “vastly, dramatically different” than what Matson would tell them.
Lynn said Bain would claim that what happened to him was the culmination of retaliation against him that had caused him to lose his livelihood.
While Lynn agreed that Wrend and Bain had started their careers around the same time, he said Wrend worked her way up and became superintendent in 2007.
In 2011, Wrend had to reprimand Bain and he would no longer speak to her, Lynn added.
Lynn denied that Wrend had any real information about what happened at the union meeting in February 2014 except that Bain had criticized her. The events that resulted in Bain losing his job began in May 2014, several months later.
Specific accusations made against Bain on Monday included that he knew a certified professional had struck a student and failed to report it despite a teacher’s role in Vermont as a mandated reporter.
Bain was also accused of having a relationship with a student that involved “grooming behavior,” and being alone with the student.
Matson had told the jury the latter accusation was expected and that he planned to present testimony from the former student and the student’s mother.
Lynn said Bain had agreed to give up his right to grieve the accusations against him and that the school board, not Wrend, had terminated his employment.
The trial was scheduled to last through the week but on Monday, both Lynn and Matson said they believed it might conclude by Thursday.