Wendt too far

Judge tosses fired su­per­in­ten­dent’s le­gal claim

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

NNWA DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE or­mally, the weight of mat­ters be­ing hashed out through lit­i­ga­tion in our lo­cal courts de­mands sub­stan­tial def­er­ence. The dis­putes in civil cases cen­ter on se­ri­ous, life-af­fect­ing is­sues. The fact is, most of us will go through our lives thank­fully with­out need of the courts to ad­ju­di­cate dif­fer­ences with some­one else. The ones that ac­tu­ally make it to a court­room are se­ri­ous, most of the time.

Just the other day, a Wash­ing­ton County cir­cuit judge faced a de­ci­sion. More on that in a mo­ment.

Last sum­mer, the Fayet­teville School Dis­trict fired Matthew Wendt, the dis­trict’s school su­per­in­ten­dent. The fir­ing came about three months af­ter a School Dis­trict em­ployee, Wendt’s sub­or­di­nate, had re­ported to the School Board al­le­ga­tions that made Wendt ap­pear un­pro­fes­sional, ver­bally abu­sive and more than a lit­tle ob­ses­sive and weird.

Wendt had spent months en­gaged in an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair with this em­ployee. Pre­dictable as it is that such se­cre­tive sex­ual en­tan­gle­ments in the work­place never end well, the two car­ried on for a while with cal­cu­lated but still reck­less aban­don. Both mar­ried to other peo­ple. Both em­ployed within the same School Dis­trict, along with her hus­band. Both with enough sense to know this re­la­tion­ship was des­tined to lead to dis­as­ter.

Un­til this episode, Wendt had in two year’s time as su­per­in­ten­dent made progress within the dis­trict. His lead­er­ship was praised. It seemed the School Board had fi­nally got­ten a su­per­in­ten­dent that might stick around and lead ef­fec­tively.

But the il­licit, hid­den re­la­tion­ship fell apart, not with a clean break, but with a level of emo­tional nas­ti­ness doc­u­mented in phone records and text mes­sages. The calm, cool, col­lected Wendt was re­vealed as any­thing but when it came to this re­la­tion­ship gone wrong.

So af­ter months of in­ves­ti­ga­tion and Wendt’s sus­pen­sion from his du­ties, the School Board fired him. It re­ally had no other op­tion, thanks en­tirely to Wendt’s own de­ci­sions and ac­tions.

Let’s be fair, though. Wendt isn’t the first school ad­min­is­tra­tor to have an af­fair. Most have the good sense to rec­og­nize their fail­ings and qui­etly fade out of sight to re­build their lives. Not Wendt. He sued. Amaz­ingly, he sued his ac­cuser, the woman with whom he tan­goed. His claim? Wendt al­leged that she was re­spon­si­ble for the School Board’s de­ci­sion to fire him. He de­manded no less than $850,000 in dam­ages, as­sert­ing that she in­ten­tion­ally and im­prop­erly in­ter­fered with the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Wendt and his em­ployer, lead­ing to his fir­ing.

Ap­par­ently, the man whose com­mu­ni­ca­tions demon­strated an ef­fort to ma­nip­u­late and threaten his em­ployee/lover wasn’t fin­ished with his abu­sive be­hav­iors. The law­suit was laugh­able, ex­cept for any­one in­volved in this mess. To make such claims, Wendt seemed to as­sign no blame to him­self, in al­most Don­ald Trump-like fash­ion.

Wendt can ar­gue all day long about whether this al­le­ga­tion or that makes him out to look like a jerk or not. But his days as su­per­in­ten­dent were de­servedly num­bered the mo­ment he de­cided to strike up an ex­tra­mar­i­tal re­la­tion­ship with an em­ployee in the dis­trict he was hired to lead. The School Board fired him June 18, cit­ing vi­o­la­tions of pol­icy through deroga­tory and of­fen­sive con­duct and com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a fe­male sub­or­di­nate em­ployee.

So, back to those weighty ju­di­cial pro­ceed­ings in­volved in Wendt’s bold law­suit against his ac­cuser. On Mon­day of this week, Cir­cuit Judge John Threet tossed Wendt’s law­suit, say­ing it did not con­tain valid le­gal claims.

And our solemn, def­er­en­tial re­sponse to the judge’s de­ci­sion: At­taboy, judge.

Oh, we know. The judge is just an­a­lyz­ing the law and le­gal prece­dent and ap­ply­ing it to Wendt’s use of the courts as a weapon to make some­one pay for what he ap­par­ently views as some­thing done to him.

We’re glad the case was tossed. We hope his law­suit against the School Dis­trict, the or­ga­ni­za­tion Wendt was sup­posed to be lead­ing into a brighter fu­ture, will also be found to have no merit.

An ar­son­ist can blame the man­u­fac­tur­ers of matches and gaso­line for a blaze he started that even­tu­ally ended up burn­ing him. That doesn’t mean any­one else should.

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