Wendt too far
Judge tosses fired superintendent’s legal claim
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.