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Southwest suburban teacher’s suit says colleague called her fat

Updated: March 13, 2012 6:23PM

A teacher in southwest suburban school district claims a colleague repeatedly called her fat and mistreated her to the point several students voiced concern.

Christine Roche has sued Richland School District 88A in Crest Hill along with Supt. Michael Early, special education director Veda Newman and teacher Tina Behnke. The suit, filed in Will County, accuses them of inflicting emotional distress and creating a hostile work environment.

Early wouldn’t comment on Roche’s lawsuit Monday, but he said the school district investigates all harassment claims so it can take the appropriate action.

“We take those things very, very seriously,” he said.

Roche’s suit said she worked with eighth-grade special education students in Behnke’s classroom. It said she filed a complaint against Behnke in March 2011, telling her union that Behnke screamed at her in the classroom and told her she looked fat and pregnant.

At one point, the suit said, Behnke went to Roche’s classroom and screamed, “Well if I looked like sh--, I would want to know.”

Behnke’s treatment of Roche was so unkind that it led several of the students to note it, the suit says.

Roche said Early looked into it, and he wrote in a report that Behnke’s comments were “unprofessional, inappropriate, perhaps even cruel.” The lawsuit said “multiple witnesses” corroborated Roche’s claims to Early.

Behnke wrote an apology letter, according to the lawsuit, and Roche was reassigned to the elementary school. A few days later, though, Roche said she learned from Newman she’d need to continue working with Behnke’s students.

Early told her she’d have to avoid direct contact with Behnke and coordinate lesson plans through a third-party teacher.

Roche said she was eventually diagnosed with acute adjustment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder and began taking medical leaves. She said she’s now on temporary disability.

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