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Suit: Teacher at Hales Franciscan fired for reporting abuse allegations

Updated: December 13, 2013 11:10AM

A former teacher at a prestigious Catholic high school on the South Side is suing the institution, claiming she was fired because she blew the whistle on an alleged sexual assault involving students.

Rochelle Daniels alleges she was wrongfully terminated from Hales Franciscan High School, at 4930 S. Cottage Grove Ave., less than one month after a female student approached her and claimed to have been sexually assaulted by two male students, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court.

After the student confided to her English teacher on Oct. 31, Daniels, of Kane County, subsequently called the state’s Department of Child and Family Services, something the school’s administration did not do, the lawsuit claims.

Daniels says she was called into a meeting with Hales Franciscan principal Erica Brownfield and school president Jeffrey Gray four days later, during which time the administrators “wanted to know every detail of her conversation with the female student who was assaulted,” according to the lawsuit.

Brownfield told Daniels that she “had no right to either have any conversation with the student or to contact DCFS,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit alleges the school violated the Illinois Whistleblower Act when it fired Daniels on Nov. 18.

The lawyer for Hales Franciscan said the school has not yet been served with the lawsuit.

“Obviously Hales denies any allegations of wrongful conduct and stands by the basis for Ms. Daniels’ termination,” said Rick Hammond, an attorney with Johnson & Bell, Ltd., representing the school. “What I can say is that Hales Franciscan prides itself on the quality of its faculty, the accomplishments of its faculty and the accomplishments of its students. Whatever her allegations are, they’re unfounded allegations and I can’t comment on the basis for her reasoning.”

Her termination letter, attached to the lawsuit as evidence, cites “gross” insubordination; incitement of other employees to be insubordinate; unsatisfactory performance; and non-compliance or willfully ignoring instruction and directives given by a senior administrator.

Daniels claims in the lawsuit that one of the male students involved in the incident confirmed to her that he wrongfully touched the female student.

Illinois law states schools must contact DCFS immediately following allegations of abuse.

Police responded to the school in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Nov. 2 to look into claims that students passed around sexually explicit photos, according to a statement from Chicago Police.

School officials told authorities that some students received or distributed sexually explicit photos of a female, police said.

But one school official also told police that a more serious crime might have been committed, based on conversations with students, the police statement said.

When officers responded to the school, there was no evidence presented to police that a crime had been committed, the statement reads.

At that time, Gray said the situation involving sexually explicit photos had been dealt with internally and it was unclear why someone called the state’s child welfare agency.

“All of the parents and students were brought in on this and they were told about the downside of doing this; why they shouldn’t do things like this. Discipline was meted out; and everybody gave written statements about their involvement that they signed and we agreed to move forward,” Gray said previously, responding to an inquiry about the photos.

He made no mention of any sexual assault at the time.

Gray declined to comment on the suit when reached Thursday evening.

The two-count suit claims retaliatory discharge and interference with prospective business advantage and seeks $100,000 in damages.

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