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Ex-Marian Central Catholic High School superintendent alleges wrongful termination in lawsuit

Ex-Marian Central superintendent seeks lost wages, court fees, damages

Former Marian Central Catholic High School Superintendent Steve Baldwin has filed a lawsuit that alleges wrongful termination and breach of contract against the Catholic Diocese of Rockford.

The lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges that the organization was in the wrong when it slashed Baldwin’s pay before his termination. Baldwin was fired in June, and the diocese since has reorganized Marian Central’s administrative leadership. Marian Central operates within the Rockford Diocese.

Vito DeFrisco, assistant superintendent of schools for the diocese, is interim superintendent through the 2018-19 school year.

In the lawsuit, Baldwin names the diocese, diocese Superintendent of Schools Michael Kagan and chancellor and general counsel Ellen Lynch.

Baldwin’s contract for the 2017-18 school year was set to expire June 30, and in March, he met with the diocese and Kagan to establish a contract for the 2018-19 school year, which was set to begin July 1, according to the lawsuit.

The 2018-19 contract set Baldwin’s salary at $151,000, with a two-part bonus plan that would allow Baldwin to receive a $15,000 “fundraising bonus” if Marian Central raised more than $160,000, and an additional $15,000 if enrollment number goals were met, according to his contract.

In April, the diocese lowered Baldwin’s salary to $124,000, and shortly after, Kagan presented Baldwin with a contract containing the adjusted salary. Baldwin refused to sign it, but his May and final paychecks were reduced, according to the lawsuit.

On June 3, Baldwin was placed on paid leave. Kagan and DeFrisco met with Baldwin on June 11 to address concerns, including an incident where Baldwin made negative statements about the company’s health insurance plan when speaking with a Marian Central teacher/coach, according to the lawsuit.

Documents also show that miscommunication involving the purchase of technology equipment occurred before Baldwin’s termination.

Kagan later gave Baldwin a chance to resign, according to the lawsuit.

“[Baldwin] received a phone call from Kagan later in the day on June 11, 2018, during which Kagan told [Baldwin], ‘This isn’t going well,’ and that he had one of two choices – [Baldwin] could either voluntarily resign right now or be terminated,” according to the lawsuit.

Baldwin requested time to discuss the situation with his wife and said he couldn’t give an immediate answer. After the conversation, Kagan emailed Baldwin a written letter of termination that ended the current contract and rescinded the 2018-19 contract offer, according to the lawsuit.

Baldwin is suing for lost wages, attorney’s fees and compensatory damages in excess of $50,000, according to the lawsuit.

Administrative changes

The Diocese of Rockford disabled Marian’s Council of Administration after Baldwin’s firing, and in the beginning of August, DeFrisco announced new bylaws and a new advisory board. A website that questions the diocese’s leadership has since been created at WeAreMC.net.

“Marian Central Catholic High School is reeling after years of destabilizing and ill-conceived actions by the Rockford diocesan leadership,” the site’s homepage reads. “We prayerfully hope for peace in our school and positive cooperation from the diocese that will restore our rich and successful history for which Marian has always been known.”

More than 50 people have signed their name to a page on the website encouraging solidarity.

DeFrisco sent out and posted on Marian’s website a letter saying that the website isn’t affiliated with the school. DeFrisco alleged that the school email database either had been hacked or used without authorization to gather email addresses to promote the website.

“We notified the Woodstock Police Department, and a full report is being filed,” DeFrisco wrote.

Baldwin and the diocese are expected to appear in court for case scheduling before McHenry County Circuit Judge Thomas Meyer at 9 a.m. Nov. 28 at the McHenry County Courthouse.

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