District seeks dismissal of former Bluffton school secretary's lawsuit

tbarton@beaufortgazette.comAugust 6, 2013 

STAFF ILLUSTRATION

The Beaufort County School District and its former acting superintendent have asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by a former H.E. McCracken Middle School secretary, who alleges she was harassed and libeled.

They argue that the suit filed in May in Beaufort County court by Denise Gibbo lacks evidence sufficient to pursue action against the district and Jackie Rosswurm, the district's former human resources chief and acting superintendent when she retired at the end of June.

Gibbo, who took a leave of absence at about the same time as former principal Phillip Shaw and who no longer works for the district, alleges negligence and breach of contract. She claims she was repeatedly harassed by school guidance counselor Annette Ballard and that neither Rosswurm, nor the district responded to her complaints. The suit says the district violated its administrative rules and policies.

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

The suit alleges Rosswurm, the district and Ballard 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.

Ballard, who also is named in the suit and is being represented by a different attorney, denies the allegations, according to court records.

Ballard is immune from the suit, under state law, because she acted within the scope of her official duties as a government employee, and "that at all times ... she was exercising her judgment," according to her response.

The response by the district and Rosswurm says they also are immune from the suit, under the same state law.

Gibbo has asked for a default judgment against Rosswurm and the district for failing to respond to the suit by a July 24 deadline. Rosswurm and the district's motion to have the suit dismissed was mailed to all parties July 24 but was not filed with the court until the following day, according to records.

Gibbo also has asked for a default judgment against Ballard on the same grounds; the counselor filed her response July 26.

The suit alleges Gibbo suffered physical injury, mental anguish, pain and suffering, and she also incurred medical and other expenses. She is suing for damages and attorney's fees.

Gibbo declined Tuesday to comment on the suit. Attempts Tuesday to reach her attorney, Fatima Zeidan; and attorneys for Ballard, Rosswurm and the school district were not successful.

Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.

Related Content:

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service