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Teacher forced to resign over false 'improper touching' accusations gets $680,000

Charlotte Observer

Teacher Jeffrey Leardini in an undated photo.

A North Carolina school district agreed to pay $680,000 to a former teacher who said he was unfairly forced to resign after several students accused him of improperly touching them.

Sixth-grade teacher Jeffrey Leardini said he had been coerced into resigning in April 2006 — despite an excellent eight-year record as a teacher — after several students came forward with complaints that he touched them in sexually suggestive ways.

Criminal charges against Leardini brought by one student at Community House Middle School were later dismissed, and the other complaints, made by several of her friends, were discredited as an effort to punish the teacher on behalf of their friend, who was doing poorly in Leardini’s class.

According to the Charlotte Observer, Leardini acknowledged that he squeezed shoulders, patted arms and touched students' heads as part of his teaching style.

In his lawsuit, filed in June 2009, Leardini charged that a human resources employee for the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school district falsely claimed the district had a "no touch" rule and misled him into believing he had no choice but to resign immediately or be terminated, and that he only later learned that he had the right to an investigation of the girls' complaints before losing his job.

In February, a jury agreed that he had been deprived of due process and awarded him damages of $1.1 million from the school district and just over $52,000 from the human resources employee, Kay Cunningham, who no longer works for the school district.

The Charlotte-Mecklenberg school district appealed the decision, maintaining that Leardini resigned voluntarily.

In the settlement reached Aug. 24, the school district agreed to pay Leardini $680,000.

The school district also agreed to change Leardini’s record from "resignation in lieu of dismissal," which made him ineligible for rehire, to voluntary resignation. "Any reference to termination or suspension will be removed," it says.

Leardini now lives in San Diego and works for Petco, according to his LinkedIn page.

His attorney, Luke Largess, told the Charlotte Observer that the settlement averted the possibility of a new trial.

He said Leardini’s successful claim would make school boards more cautious about their handling of complaints against teachers.

Largess said "it has given them pause" about rushing to force accused employees to resign, the Observer reported.

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