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Music Teacher Fights Termination, Sues Waukesha School District

Heyer Elementary School teacher contends district acted improperly in not renewing her contract for 2012-13 school year.

A music teacher who was facing legal and professional troubles is claiming the Waukesha School District acted in bad faith and in a discriminatory manner when the district did not renew her contract for the 2012-13 school year.

Karn Orner, a music teacher at , filed a civil complaint against the School District of Waukesha in Waukesha Circuit Court on April 30. Orner is seeking relief from what she claims is breach of contract and breach of good faith and fair dealing by the school district. She also is asking for reinstatement of her position for 2012-13.

The complaint states that during the non-renewal process, the administration began looking for information to support Orner’s non-renewal and used "discriminatory, prejudicial information" at the non-renewal hearing. This information became the sole basis upon which the School District of Waukesha chose to not renew Orner’s employment, the complaint alleges. Additionally, the information was referenced on more than one occasion during the non-renewal hearing, the complaint states.

This “inflammatory, irrelevant and highly prejudicial information” made it impossible for Orner to have a fair hearing, according to the complaint, and the school district did so in bad faith and in intentional disregard of Orner’s rights.

Furthermore, according to the complaint, the district intentionally failed to maintain “meaningful minutes.” The lack of record reflecting deliberation on the non-renewal decision avoids a record, which would have disclosed the "discriminatory" evidence and statements made by administration and school board members regarding Orner’s non-renewal, according to the complaint.

The school board voted 7-1 in favor of Orner’s non-renewal, with Board Member Barbara Brzenk casting the dissenting vote. Board Member Ellen Langill was not in attendance, the court records state.

A public search of Orner in Wisconsin Circuit Courts has a record of her arrest and plea of no contest to a misdemeanor charge of operating while intoxicated-second offence for an incident last August in New Berlin. Her sentencing hearing is June 11. Use of this information in regard to her employment, if not "substantially related" to the circumstances of her job, could be considered discriminatory, according to Wisconsin’s fair employment laws.

Superintendent Todd Gray declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Parents Urged District to Renew Contract

Six people spoke on Orner’s behalf at the closed hearing about her non-renewal, according to court documents. Nine people spoke on her behalf during the public comment portion of the April school board meeting.

One of the speakers, parent Timothy Andringa, an attorney who has since the meeting filed the complaint against the district on Orner’s behalf, said he spoke to tell the district that they had made a mistake in not renewing Orner’s contract.

“I believe, having reviewed the open records, that she was wrongly targeted for non-renewal,” he said. “The conduct of the administration in this appalls me as a parent.”

When asked about Orner’s contention that the district used inappropriate information to make its decision, Andringa paused before answering.

“My understanding is that information was used at the meeting that had nothing to do with her teaching but in my opinion had everything to do with the decision that was made. And that’s unacceptable,” Andringa said.

Furthermore, the district has no minutes that show the basis for the decision to not renew Orner’s contract, according to Andringa.

All the people who spoke at the meeting knew about her “personal situation,” Andringa said. He characterized her as popular with students and families and willing to make extra effort on behalf of her students.

“Karn Orner is a good teacher,” he said.

“She was wrong on that day,” he said, referring to the arrest and added that it’s had a substantially negative impact on her personal life.

“But it’s wrong to use it to ruin her professionally, too,” he said.

“Nothing relates her behavior that day to her teaching,” Andringa said. “Why was it even investigated?"

Spring Concert Cancelation Leads to Problems

A change in school administration for the 2011-12 school year led to the professional problems when she was told the spring concert she was planning since the past school year was canceled, according to Orner’s complaint and court records. The decision, records state, was “non-negotiable.”

According to Orner's complaint and court records, in December of 2011, Principal Michael Sukawaty, who replaced former Principal Gregg Deets as principal for 2011-12, informed school district administration via an email that Orner should be renewed for the 2012-13 school year.

Following the meeting where the concert was canceled, according to the complaint, Sukawaty decided Orner’s “demeanor at the meeting was unacceptable” and he sought the opinion of and assistance from Christine Hedstrom, school district assistant superintendent for human and labor relations.

Orner was surprised by news that the spring concert was to be cancelled and was disappointed and, although there wasn’t any profanity, she may have raised her voice, Andringa said.

“But you should be able to have a professional disagreement,” Andringa said. “It never affected her relationship with students. It was never going to affect how she was going to teach kids.”

What happened after the meeting, however, “snowballed” between Orner and the administration unnecessarily, according to Andringa.

What he doesn’t understand, he said, that if she was such a bad teacher, why did they want to renew her in December and, secondly, why would they allow her to teach but place special conditions on her?

Placed on Probation

Following subsequent meetings attended by Orner, school district administration and Education Association of Waukesha President Elizabeth Keadle, the school district offered Orner probationary renewal for 2012-13, with what the complaint calls “discriminatory terms and conditions” that were “unduly harsh.”

According to the complaint, under the terms of her probationary renewal Orner was to “consistently address her colleagues and principal in a warm and friendly manner (open body language, warm vocal tone, sustained eye contact, smiling), she will issue courtesy statements each and every time she encounters another staff member.”

She would also have been required to keep a daily log of all contact she had with staff and adults and review the diary with Sukawaty or others weekly, according to the complaint.

Orner declined to accept the terms of the probationary renewal. The school district then gave Orner notice of her non-renewal, citing a lack of satisfactory performance as a teacher, according to court documents. Orner requested a hearing about her non-renewal and that the meeting be an open meeting so others could attend and speak on her behalf, according to the complaint.

However, the complaint alleges that the district did not want the hearing to be open and intentionally noticed the hearing for a closed session. Orner learned of the closed session the night of the hearing and was told that if she did not want to proceed, the hearing would have to be postponed since the meeting was noticed for a closed session, according to the complaint.

Orner began her employment at Heyer in August 2009, receiving two exemplary reviews, in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years from Deets, Heyer’s principal at the time. Orner has held a teacher’s license since 2003 and previous taught at Holy Apostles in New Berlin.

Ann May 11, 2012 at 11:46 PM
the "sha guy, You must be perfect! Judgemental, are we? You bet. That was one thing that bugged me when I lived in Waukesha, grudgeful, UNFORGIVING people who think their u know what, don't stink!
Johnny Paycheck May 12, 2012 at 01:36 AM
A musician who occasionally party's too much, imagine that... I really don't see a problem with this so long as she wasn't intoxicated on the schools time. We have police officers, attorney generals and ex presidents and vice presidents who have all got drunk drivings-- and sometimes more than once.
slbjet2 May 12, 2012 at 01:54 AM
Like Ms. Rickerts states, "If any one out there Has NEVER made a mistake then go ahead and throw stones at her." If you don't know her, or have not witnessed all the great things she has done at Heyer, you have no right to comment. Clearly "sha guy" you are a complete loser that is sitting in your parents basement (in your whitey tighty's) constantly making comments on here always judging others...time to grow up and get a life.
Johnny Paycheck May 12, 2012 at 03:43 AM
"I for one do not wish to have a drunk teaching my kids." - Wow are you ever living in the wrong state! :) "Plus the fact she was charged with resisting arrest as well as disorderly conduct."-- Do you not understand the difference between a charge and a conviction? Neither does the school board! I'm sure that this teacher is grateful that they were honest (or dumb) enough not to substitute some smokescreen reason for termination that's legal like most employers do once they've decided to break the law. I personally would like to see the folks who made this illegal firing decision held accountable and forced to repay the school system for all the money they just cost us with their blatant disregard for employment law. With legal defense fee's, settlements, etc. this is going to cost the schools at least 500k. Our school board made a very poor showing, and just wasted a small fortune in taxpayer money. Do they not have a lawyer somewhere that they can ask questions of before making stupid decisions like this? So this teacher broke the law by driving drunk, and the school board sets an example by breaking the law in firing her for something that is not substantially related to the job. Perhaps the Waukesha school system is a lost cause...
the 'sha guy May 12, 2012 at 03:54 AM
The reason our state has weak DUI laws is because of cases like this. People feel sorry for her and try to reason away responsibility for her own stupidity by saying things like "haven't you ever made a mistake? no one is perfect, or, it was on her own time." If she weren't our kids teacher, people would be saying she should be in jail. Well, if you have ever lost a loved one because of a drunk driver, perhaps you would have a differing opinion of this drunk. She has been CAUGHT twice. She has put all of your family, friends and loved ones in danger because of her own inability to think. Yet, people ignorantly say "but my kids like her." Well, by her own actions she doesn't care about your kids. The loser here is the drunk with what is going to be 2 dui/pac convictions, not to mention the charges of resisting an officer & disorderly conduct. She clearly has a drinking problem and lacks judgment. She was the individual who put the lives of families, friends and your loved ones in danger by her own actions, now for the 2nd time Plus, if this is her 2nd charge within 10 years she will have a breathalyzer ignition device ("Hey, look, there is our drunk music teacher blowing in the tube to start her car!") She would have her license suspended for 12-18 months and she would rightfully be sentenced between 5 days - 6 months in jail. What happens next time when she injures or god forbid kills someone? Will you parents still defend her then?
the 'sha guy May 12, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Does an ignition locking breathalyzer count as a musical instrument? I mean you blow into it and I'm sure it makes some sort of sound when the car starts, right? As for the suing, I guess she has a lack of personal responsibility to go along with her lack of thinking when it comes to getting behind the wheel drunk. Hopefully she doesn't get anything and ends up going to jail (if 1st conviction was within 10 years of second)
CircleofWillis May 12, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Ugh. The sha guy to be honest , people like you are the reason I am really excited to leave Waukesha to go to grad school. Where again does it say that she had two DUI's? Not only that if it was not on the schools time and they decide to fire her for it that is considered discriminatory under Wisconsin state statue. The link is in the article.
slbjet2 May 12, 2012 at 02:48 PM
I can agree what Ms. Orner did was wrong, however that is a different issue and it cannot be considered in her renewal under a state statue. Mr. sha guy have you read the article? The issue at stake here is that the School District of Waukesha handled her non-renewal wrong. What they did was illegal, I do not want my children in a school district that does not treat their teacher's fairly. Otherwise why have rule's in place at all? The taxpayers will be having to contribute a lot of money for this, however the blame cannot be placed on Ms. Orner it will solely be with the school districts improper conduct/handling of her non-renewal. All she wants is her job back. Was what she did wrong? Absolutely....has it affected her job? Not at all. Have you witnessed her in her job? Unless you are a parent/teacher at Heyer, no you have not. Have we all done things we regret? Yes. "sha guy" did I miss the second coming of Jesus Christ? Pretty sure I didn't and you are not him, so stop with all the judgement.
the 'sha guy May 13, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Let's not change the subject. Of course I have made mistakes. Although I will say that none of them have been as reckless and selfish as the two mistakes she has made regarding her drinking and driving. Not to mention she is an adult and should be looked upon as a role model for the kids she taught. That is not so easy with two DUI convictions. Plus you are ignoring the fact that her own principal rescinded his recommendation for future employment. There are obviously some issues with this women that extend even further than her lack of judgment on her own ability to handle alcohol and her drinking and driving. If two DUI's is not a problem for you, what would you think if she got a third, or a fourth, or a fifth? Would she still be deserving of all the adoration and praise? Do you actually think that she has been caught the only two times she has ever gotten behind a wheel drunk? How many other times did she have a lack of judgment and get away with driving drunk? It really says a lot about her character if she doesn't have the personal responsibility to control your own actions.
slbjet2 May 13, 2012 at 02:10 AM
This is going to be my last comment and I am done because clearly there is no point in arguing with stupid. You keep bringing up her DUI's when they are completely irrelevant to what has transpired. The school district was wrong...end of story. It will play out in a court room and you will be proven wrong. I have lost a loved one to a drunk driver so I realize how serious the offense is, however everyone deserves forgiveness. Even you Mr. 'sha guy...so I forgive you for your ignorance.
the 'sha guy May 13, 2012 at 12:54 PM
Yes, of course I am the stupid one when we have a drunk argumentative teacher and a parent/supporter like yourself who is willing to defend her probably past her 4th or 5th DUI. This isn't simply about her drunk driving and fighting with police either. It is also about the belligerent attitude she showed the principal that mad him rescind her employment recommendation. She obviously has issues outside of school with drinking, but she apparently has uncontrollable outburst in the school when things don't go her as well. I personally have more faith in our principal than he did the right thing.
Jason J May 13, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Why make a issue out of the DUI part of it, what about the Resisting/Obstructing meaning she either lied to the police, or fought with them, and the Disorderly Conduct, which (I am guessing) would consist of her yelling, screaming, being rowdy at the Hospital where they took her for her to refuse the blood draw. The totality of the circumstaces would result in a reason for firing, A teacher who fights with police, and refuses to obey the law, is not someone who needs to be in the schools.
Johnny Paycheck May 13, 2012 at 02:59 PM
She didn't get convicted of resisting or obstructing, Jason. If you are going to use CCAP to make determinations about people then you owe it to the community to use it responsibly and know the differnece between convictions and charges that have been dismissed or otherwise thrown out...
Johnny Paycheck May 13, 2012 at 03:09 PM
People like you and this schohol board ruin what it means to be an American. It's almost trendy now to threaten peoples jobs and livelyhood for everything and anything that has nothing to do with the job. The state is the one that is responsible for determining the punishment for drunk driving, not a bunch of judgemental vigilantee's on the school board and behind their computer desks... What was once one of the most free societies in the world is now one of the least "free" when it comes to what anyone can do without being discriminated against for the rest of their lives...
the 'sha guy May 13, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Let's be responsible! The disorderly and resisting charges were not thrown out, nor were they dismissed. The refusal to take intoxication test will be read in and a factor in her sentence. She has a plea agreement and deferred prosecution on the disorderly and resisting arrest. It not that she wasn't convicted. It will likely be a conviction if she does not adhere to the plea agreement.
Jason J May 13, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Johnny, obviously you are not sure of the way CCAP works, By my interpretation of it she has not been convicted of any of it and has entered a not guilty plea, therefore it is all still on the table, a motion to dismiss is not a dismissal. As it stands she posted a $450 cash bail and has restrictions: Defendant is not to possess or consume any alcohol. Defendant is not to possess/consume drugs unless prescribed by a physician Defendant is not to operate a motor vehicle unless properly licensed. Defendant to have no contact with the witness listed in the criminal complaint, or the officers unless its for emergency. Defendant to report/comply with Wisconsin Community Services (WCS) Intoxicated Driver Program. Johnny I think you need to be a bit more responsible when posting and at least try to comprehend what you are going on about before you post.
Johnny Paycheck May 13, 2012 at 10:06 PM
It's folks like you who are going to get CCAP taken away from the rest of us... It doesn't matter if the charge is dismissed but read in, defferred prosecution, etc... Any charge that does not result in a conviction CANNOT be used to deny employment to someone or you've just broken the laws the of the state you live in... Perhaps the only unrepentant law-breaker in this story is you 'sha guy.
robert heule May 14, 2012 at 02:59 AM
"First God created idiots, that was for practice, then he created school boards"..Mark Twain
the 'sha guy May 14, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I'm not using it to deny her employment. I'm just stating that despite what a few parents say, she is a belligerent drunk. The principal of the school had his his own valid reasons for rescinding his employment recommendation.
smurf May 14, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Karn, Don't worry about the things that have been written. You know who supports you in your fight. The kids and countless parents believe you are worth keeping at our school. What the school board did is wrong and that is what this is about, not your personal life.
Jan Getz May 14, 2012 at 08:16 PM
This sheds light on a related issue. We need to take a closer look at the administration involved here. Is there a record of similar misjudgments and immature behavior on the part of this particular person? We're just wondering - with some cause, of course. How are disagreements handled on a daily basis and are other discriminatory accusations a habit with this administrator? Let's open this can-of-worms in a very big way!
the 'sha guy May 14, 2012 at 09:49 PM
She shouldn't worry about the things written? She could end up in jail depending upon the timing of the last conviction. She will have her license suspended. She will have a vehicle car starting breathalyzer. Yes, nothing to worry about! Glad we have another parent not concerned with the personal responsibilities and judgement by one of their children's teachers. Wow, do you guys have a low bar. (no pun intended-for the drunk) Would you support her if she had 4, 5 or 6 DUIs? What if she fought with police again? What you do in your personal life is a direct reflection of who and what kind of person you are in both your personal and professional lives.
Waukytalk May 14, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Ms. Orner worked hard to get that Spring Concert together and it was cancelled!! I'd be really ticked off if this happened to me!! It looks like there may have been some behavior issues and Human Resources recommended a performance improvement plan. That performance improvement plan was rejected by Ms. Orner and this caused a non-renewal of contract.
smurf May 15, 2012 at 02:28 PM
I agree
Erin Jarman May 26, 2012 at 03:16 PM
I couldnt have said it better smurf. Those who know Ms Orner and love her know the real story here and can see past the smoke screens
Erin Jarman May 26, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Agreed Waukytalk
Erin Jarman May 26, 2012 at 03:18 PM
You need to consider your actions sha and how they affect others. Think about you getting caught on camera and one of your lowest moments and it being strewn all over the internet and negatively impacting your reputation.............
Carl Spackler June 16, 2012 at 04:29 PM
I hope the Waukesha School System will take a look at the maintenance spending costs like New Berlin did and have a private firm take over. If New Berlin could save almost $1,000,000 then Waukesha should be able to save $4,.000,000.
Pink99 July 18, 2012 at 05:27 AM
"Orner was to “consistently address her colleagues and principal in a warm and friendly manner (open body language, warm vocal tone, sustained eye contact, smiling), she will issue courtesy statements each and every time she encounters another staff member.” She would also have been required to keep a daily log of all contact she had with staff and adults and review the diary with Sukawaty or others weekly, according to the complaint." Who would agree to this!? It is demeaning, ridiculous, difficult to measure, and open to unfair judgement. The principal that put this into place sounds like a child with hurt feelings. Yes, her blow up was probably inappropriate, but giving a staff member an improvement plan that sounds as if it were written for a 7 year old does not seem like the wisest, or most approriate, handling of the situation. In fact, it seems down right insulting, which in turn will only cause a staff member to become more bitter. His plan looks as if he was trying to set her up to fail. Why is no one questioning this principal's judgement or abilities in conflict resolution? Seriously though...a staff interaction diary...What the heck?! Dear Diary, Today I passed Mr. Smith in the hall...I smiled and said hello. Two steps later, Ms. Acorn approach...I smiled and waved..... And then she's supposed to discuss it with the person she had the disagreement with?! Very poor showing on the part of the principal.....not to mention the district.
Alvin Leo August 28, 2012 at 05:09 AM
Very sad. The school acted illegally, the cop acted illegally and Karn acted illegally. Did you know the cop beat the snot out of her? And the complaint said she was actually walking and her car was parked? She had to go to the hospital. Apparently she was belligerent to the cop after she sustained head trauma and couldn't even walk straight.

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