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District 304, Pennington dispute settled for $287K

GENEVA – After four years of litigation, Geneva District 304 and embattled former employee Margaret Pennington have come to a settlement, with the district agreeing to pay her $287,000.

The nine-page settlement agreement was released Tuesday following a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the district’s attorney, James Petrungaro.

The monetary part of the nine-page settlement covers Pennington’s back pay, crediting her with unused sick days and personal days.

The agreement calls for the district to subtract $73,500 from Pennington’s settlement and cut a separate check to be sent to pay her attorney, Ruth Major.

The remaining $213,500 is to have all taxes and pension deductions made before it is paid to her. The district also agreed to pay $3,498.76 to the Teachers Retirement Service and health insurance service as the employer’s contribution for her earnings, which is included in the total amount.

Through its attorney, the district issued a statement announcing the two sides “have mutually resolved their legal disputes.”

Officials referred questions to Petrungaro, who said there was no comment beyond the prepared statement. Pennington’s attorney had no comment, and Pennington did not return a voicemail message seeking comment.

All payments to Pennington and her attorney, as well as the district’s litigation expenses, were covered by the district’s liability insurer, IAG, officials said.

In addition to the settlement cost, the litigation cost to the insurer was about $180,000, according to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Without admitting fault on either side, the settlement agreement states it is a compromise in the interests of avoiding additional litigation costs. Other terms of the agreement include dropping all legal claims and each side not publicly disparaging the other side.

It also requires that evaluation reports and the nonrenewal of her contract be removed from Pennington’s employment record with the district. Instead, the district will provide a letter of reference in Pennington’s formal personnel file, according to the settlement.

Pennington, who has a Ph.D. in education and 27 years of experience, was principal at Heartland Elementary School for the 2008-09 school year. She was reassigned as coordinator of special projects for the district for the 2009-10 school year, then her contract was not renewed for the 2009-10 school year.

In 2009, Pennington sued the district in federal court, alleging age – she was 52 in 2008 – and gender discrimination and said the district tried to intimidate her from pursuing discrimination complaints. 

In a 2011 complaint of age and gender discrimination with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, Pennington, then 54, of Geneva, claimed school officials engaged in a two-year pattern of abuse and humiliation against her, in violation of state and federal law. 

A federal judge ruled in favor of the district’s motion to dismiss her suit, but gave her leave to file an amended complaint. 

The district also sued Pennington in 2011, seeking more than $100,000 in damages on behalf of itself and two assistant superintendents, alleging that Pennington tape-recorded meetings despite being told not to. 

In February, Kane County Circuit Court Judge David Akemann dismissed the district’s case, saying the state’s eavesdropping law is unconstitutional.

The school board voted in September to authorize a settlement with Pennington. The agreement was released after a period of time allowed for the parties to review the terms.

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