MMSD: Problems in communications dept. “abundantly clear” after complaint alleging harassment is made public

The Madison Metropolitan School District broke its silence after a complaint alleging harassment and bullying against its head of communications was made public
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 2:15 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Madison Metropolitan School District broke its silence after a complaint alleging harassment and bullying against its head of communications was made public.

A statement from Communications Manager Ian Folger was sent out Thursday. It addresses the complaint against Madison Metropolitan School District’s head of communication Tim LeMonds that alleges instances of “emotional abuse, bullying, unequal pay, and harassment on the basis of gender, and race or ethnicity” against current and former district employees.

The complaint details how LeMonds allegedly interacted with and spoke about female journalists, including NBC15′s Elizabeth Wadas. According to the complaint, LeMonds allegedly described Wadas in a Zoom meeting as “Quickly becoming the sleaziest journalist in Madison…What a pig of a journalist” in response to a story Wadas was working on that was critical of a high school football coach.

“The information shared publicly last week was difficult for all individuals mentioned in the documents, as well as for those who interact with them. It is abundantly clear that there are relational problems within the District’s communications department that need to be addressed,” Folger said.

In court Thursday, May 25, Judge Rhonda Lanford ultimately ruled in favor of MMSD and NBC15 as Intervenors, that the school district, by law, had to release the records in full to NBC15. The court documents showed LeMonds was trying to block the release of a cover page email and a 14-page complaint filled with personal grievances and accusations against him by several current and former MMSD employees.

Folger said they are committed to listening to employees concerns and to address the media, saying the district respects their “role and responsibilities and the significance of the First Amendment in safeguarding our democracy.”

The 14-page complaint written by current and former employees was emailed to MMSD’s Human Resources department and its legal team on October 21, 2022. The district says they investigated the allegations, conducting at least 11 interviews, and no action was taken against LeMonds. Claims were found to have “insufficient evidence.” But court documents show not all the allegations were without merit. Thursday is the first time publicly they say they will look further into the communications department as a whole and promised change.

On Thursday in response to the district’s statement, LeMonds says he is grateful for the district’s “fair and thorough investigation of the complaint in October of 2022.” He says that investigation cleared him of all allegations.

“I am eager to move forward, resolve the relational issues within the team, and get back to working together to uplift the many great things happening in our schools - like our graduating class of 2022-2023,” said LeMonds.

In March, LeMonds sued the district after MMSD’s legal staff deemed records requested by NBC15 Investigates Elizabeth Wadas were public records that needed to be handed over to our news station. The open records request was first made on December 19, 2022.

LeMonds was in court, May 25, sitting next to his attorney, Randall Gold. Gold argued the information in those emails would lead to “unwarranted, unfair and irreversible public ridicule and gossip, negative public perception, and jeopardize his ability to credibly perform his duties (with MMSD).”

In the statement released Thursday, one week after Judge Lanford’s ruling, the district doubles down and says it stands by the judge’s ruling and at no time did the district object to the release of the records, which reflected the district’s argument in court.

“The evidence presented in court demonstrates that we have much relational work to do within our Communications Team. We are committed to doing the hard work and restoring the integrity of that team. We will conduct a full review of the department operations, structure and human interactions in the coming months,” says Fogle.

This includes what the district calls “significant leadership changes this summer” and a promise to restore relationships with employees and local journalists.

The statement ends with Folger saying the focus right now, though, is on students as it is the second to last week of school.

“We will not allow administrative processes or personnel to distract from our focus on student achievement this graduation season.”

When asked for comment about the complaint and the allegations in it following the document’s release, LeMonds said “all allegations of emotional abuse, bullying, unequal pay, and harassment on the basis of gender, and race or ethnicity included in the complaint were thoroughly investigated and found to be without merit.”

Since Wednesday, May 31 NBC15 Investigates has asked multiple times for on camera interviews with Superintendent Carlton Jenkins and the school board members. We have not gotten a reply.

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