Settlements cost Danville school district $655,000

Target 3

DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA)– A Target 3 investigation shows taxpayers in Danville are covering the cost of two settlements involving the city’s school district.

The Danville School Board voted to sign settlement agreements with Superintendent Alicia Geddis and her administrative assistant Letha Reeves in September to resolve claims of sexual harassment and professional misconduct against two former board members. The agreements cost the D118 School District $655,000.

Former board member Lon Henderson and former board president Bill Dobbles resigned as a condition of the settlement.

After combing through nearly 200 pages of documents Target 3 obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, it appears it all began with eight accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Henderson.

Geddis initiated an investigation into those complaints in the summer of 2020 and that led to retaliation from “certain board members”, according to an Oct. 2020 letter to the board from Geddis’s attorney at the time, Sara McClain.

At its most recent meeting, the board of education approved a bill for a $200,000 check to Geddis, half of the amount promised in the settlement. A separate $150,000 settlement check was made to Reeves and another $105,000 was made out to their attorneys.

To better understand how it got to this point, let’s rewind to the investigation into former board member and retired teacher Lon Henderson, following claims of sexual harassment and professional misconduct by multiple district employees.

The final report, dated Nov. 2020, was completed by a law firm that often represented the board at the time: Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn LLP.

According to that report, Geddis provided the initial information surrounding the accusations. Names were redacted before Target 3 obtained it, but in an email from July of this year, Reeves said she was the victim in three out of eight incidents spanning from 2015 to Dec. 2019.

For the purposes of this report, we are taking a look at two of those.

The first took place at a retirement dinner in 2018. The report said Henderson “stood directly behind [her] In a sexual, intimate manner, positioning his body very close to the back of [Reeves’s] body without [her] permission.”

Then, at a board holiday dinner in Dec. 2019, Henderson is said to have reached for an item on a table, extending his hand near her genitals as she stood next to the table.

However, no written complaints were ever filed for any of the accusations, according to the report, so the pages reveal interviews with rather different accounts of what happened.

A summary of Reeves’s interview said Henderson “whispered ‘do not move'” and when she turned around, he “was standing one inch behind [her].” Reeves said she told Henderson it was inappropriate, according to the report, and Henderson “just laughed and walked away.” It said she reported this to Geddis and former pres. Dobbles the next day.

Geddis recalled hearing about the 2018 incident in her interview for the report. She’s quoted as saying, when Dobbles didn’t take action a week later, they called attorney Stan Eisenhammer who wrote this report. Geddis said Eisenhammer recommended an investigation then. After that, the report said Geddis left for summer break and did not follow up.

Dobbles said he “understood this to be a serious accusation” in his interview. The report said he and Geddis met with Henderson and told him, “He could not be in another person’s space.” According to Dobbles’s account, Henderson apologized and that appeared to be the end of it.

Henderson acknowledged this conduct to be inappropriate in his interview. That was not the case for any other accusations.

The report concluded the accusations were substantiated, some in part. However, the attorneys did not find enough evidence to label Henderson’s conduct as sexual harassment.

The retirement party and holiday dinner incidents, both involving Reeves, took further analysis, according to the conclusion. Ultimately, the report read, “We believe that they would not likely support a claim of sexual harassment.” 

Eisenhammer’s report also recommended that Henderson “attend courses dealing with this particular issue sponsored by IASB as well as attending a workplace sensitivity training seminar in order to facilitate appropriate interactions with district employees in the future.”

Fast forward to March 2021, in an email to Eisenhammer, Reeves said what happened to her was “downplayed” in the report.

In a more detailed email to her attorney Steve Glink a few months later, she said, “…It was just one more time Mr. Henderson was allowed to degrade me and get away with it…” referring back to the 2019 holiday party incident.

Also in March, Reeves emailed Geddis. The email said Dobbles “tried to bully and intimidate [her] Into agreeing with him and the board regarding the Henderson investigation findings.”

In a complaint addressed to the Illinois State Board of Education in April of this year, Glink said Reeves made “…several timely internal complaints to Superintendent Geddis, who in tum brought them to the president of the board of education, William Dobbles. On each and every occasion, Mr. Dobbles informed Superintendent Geddis that he would ‘handle’ the situation. That never happened.”

Glink added Dobbles’s “…misconduct is widespread across the district,” and women “…refuse to report what they know for fear of retaliation.”

Glink went on to list out at least 15 redacted names and suggested the state board interview them.

Geddis’ settlement also included a five-year extension.

Henderson said he believes she was using the accusations to “gain leverage over her contract negotiations,” when he was interviewed for the report in Nov. 2020.

An email from Geddis’s attorney to the Danville Board of Education, said she only requested the investigation “when she was not able to obtain an appropriate response from this board.” The email also accused Henderson of telling community members that Geddis “keeps a ‘black book with a list of things’ [Henderson] has done to others in an alleged attempt to harass him.”

Payment made to Reeves this month was to settle all claims she may have against the board. It “compromise[s] her claim for defamation” and covers damages for “her claim of retaliation under the Civil Rights of 1964.”

Settlements have not been made with anyone else mentioned in the report.

According to Geddis’s settlement agreement, she and the board also agreed to participate in training “including, but not limited to, the role of the Board member, the Board/Superintendent relationship, Board/Superintendent communications, and diversity and inclusion…” 

Both agreements release all involved, including the rest of the Board, Geddis and Reeves, from liability on “any and all claims alleged as part of the Dispute.” 

A statement from the board was attached to Reeves’s settlement. It read, “The Board of Education recently resolved disputes with one of its employees, Letha Reeves. The Board regrets any actions taken that resulted in Mrs. Reeves feeling like anything other than a valued member of the District 118 staff.” 

Target 3 reached out to Geddis, Reeves, Henderson, Dobbles, Eisenhammer and current board president Randal Ashton in an attempt to clarify some of the mismatched accounts in the report.

Reeves and Ashton did not respond.

Henderson, Dobbles and Eisenhammer all said they couldn’t comment, citing the confidentiality agreement in the settlements. According to the agreements, breaking that clause could cost them $5,000.

Geddis’s attorney called us with a statement: “The settlement agreements and documents released through FOIA speak for themselves, and at this point, the board and the parties to the settlement agreement want to move forward.”

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