McCracken secretary sues school district, Rosswurm alleging breach of contract, libel

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comMay 10, 2013 

A former H.E. McCracken Middle School secretary has sued the Beaufort County School District, acting superintendent Jackie Rosswurm and a guidance counselor at the middle school, alleging she was harassed and libeled.

Denise Gibbo, who left the school on leave at about the same time as former principal Phillip Shaw and who no longer works for the district, filed the suit in Beaufort County court this week.

Gibbo alleges breach of contract and negligence, saying the repeated harassment of counselor Annette Ballard -- and a lack of response to it by Rosswurm and the district -- violated the district's administrative rules and policies.

The suit makes only one specific harassment allegation about Ballard: Gibbo said the counselor approached her in October 2012 in a "violent, angry manner," used threatening words and made "bodily contact."

Gibbo also is suing for assault, based upon that instance.

The suit claims Gibbo suffered physical injury, out-of-pocket expenses, medical expenses, mental anguish and distress, apprehension, anxiety, emotional injury, pain, and suffering as a result of the harassment.

Gibbo also is suing for libel and slander. The suit alleges Rosswurm, the district and Ballad accused Gibbo "on numerous occasions of committing a crime of moral turpitude and of unfitness in her business and profession."

It alleges those accusations were made to the public through local newspapers and broadcast media, as well as to her coworkers.

Attempts to reach Gibbo, her attorney Fatima Zeidan and Ballard were not immediately successful Friday afternoon.

Jim Foster, spokesman for the school district, said the district had not yet been served.

Gibbo left the school in early November, about the same time as Shaw, who is not mentioned in the lawsuit. Their leaves coincided with a review of McCracken's policies and procedures which was prompted by a "personnel issue" related to Shaw.

At first, district officials said Shaw would only be out for a few days. But by January, he had been reassigned to lead a district alternative-school program. Shaw remains on paid leave, earning his $93,774 annual salary, Foster said.

In early April, his contract was renewed, but district officials said that decision was compelled by state law and that he must settle problems with the district before he can return next school year.

Officials have mostly declined to discuss Gibbo's leave, saying only that it was paid. As of April 4, Gibbo no longer worked for the district. Rosswurm has declined to say whether she resigned or was fired.

Shaw has alleged he has been placed on leave because of complaints he made about Ballard, who, Shaw has said, has irritated school staff members for a few years. Complaints about Ballard by Shaw and others have not been addressed by the district, he said in December.

Gibbo is suing for damages and attorney's fees.

The district, Ballard and Rosswurm have 30 days to respond to the lawsuit, which asks for a jury trial and is subject to mediation.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/IPBG_Rachel.

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