Peters, district settle lawsuit with parent

February 22, 2012 5:43 pm

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Peters and its school district have settled a federal suit by a resident and former basketball coach who claimed her civil rights were violated when she was barred from her daughter's basketball practices and games.

As part of the settlement, approved Friday by U.S. District Court Chief Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan, insurers for the township and district will pay Diane Wickstrom and her daughter, Marissa, a total of $63,500.

Neither defendant admits any wrongdoing.

The Wickstroms' attorney, Thomas J. Farnan, claimed his client was wrongfully barred for almost two years under a "false premise" and said Tuesday that his clients are "vindicated."

The school board Tuesday night approved the settlement agreement by a 5-4 vote, with members Lori Cuervo, David Hvizdos, Lynn Erenberg and Cindy Golembiewski dissenting.

Ms. Wickstrom sued in October alleging defamation and violations of her right to free speech and equal protection.

She claimed she was singled out after sending a 2009 email to the township's parks and recreation board that raised concerns about her daughter's seventh-grade basketball team, part of the Peters Township Basketball Association.

A policy was enacted that banned parents from practices of the seventh-grade girls travel team, which was followed by a letter by the township to Ms. Wickstrom warning that she would be cited or arrested if she did not comply.

"This is a case of parents, in retaliation against a coach/parent for her complaints about their inappropriate behavior, seizing control of the instruments of legal authority in a small town and dramatically and vindictively retaliating against that coach/parent by implementing and enforcing petty ordinances against her," Mr. Farnan wrote in a motion.

Peters claimed that the exclusion policy was applied to all parents, and the sides disagreed about whether Ms. Wickstrom violated the policy.

On Nov. 21 Peters rescinded the ban on Ms. Wickstrom.

The township's insurer will be responsible for paying $55,000, and the school district's insurer will cover the remaining $8,500.

Peters Manager Michael Silvestri said the insurance company made the decision to settle and worked out the amount.

He said the only bite to taxpayers would be any deductible the township would have to pay. He could not cite a figure.

"The insurance company is the one that made the decision to settle as opposed to continue this in court," Mr. Silvestri said. "We still contend that there was no wrongdoing."

Correction/Clarification: (Published February 23, 2012) The Peters Township school board voted Tuesday to approve a lawsuit settlement with a parent. The wrong day was included in a story Wednesday.
Jonathan D. Silver: or 412-263-1962.
First Published 2012-02-21 23:22:30

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