Investigation finds termination would have been warranted for fmr. MMSD spokesperson

The firm interviewed 12 current and former employees and reviewed records from the district with LeMonds.
Published: Aug. 8, 2023 at 10:16 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 8, 2023 at 10:29 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - An investigation into allegations of misconduct, including retaliation, against former Madison School District Spokesperson Tim LeMonds concludes his conduct warranted “serious disciplinary action, up to and including termination,” this according to documents sent to NBC15 Investigates by the district through an open records request.

The document titled “Summary of the Investigation Into Allegations Against Tim LeMonds” shows the district hired an outside law firm from Green Bay to conduct the investigation. This took place from May 11 to June 16. The firm interviewed 12 current and former employees and reviewed records from the district with LeMonds.

LeMonds’ lawyers directly dispute each investigative finding in an 11-page response to MMSD’s lawyers. It starts by saying LeMonds was informed by MMSD Legal Counsel that this investigation wouldn’t include anything covered in the original investigation into the 14-page complaint made by current and former staff members that alleged bullying and harassment. LeMonds’ lawyers say there is considerable overlap between the investigations.

“Tim was absolved of nearly all allegations from the original complaint and investigation. A repeated investigation over matters already resolved constitutes labor-law double-jeopardy,” said LeMonds’ lawyer.

Investigative findings

These are the conclusions the investigators determined:

Investigative Finding #1: LeMonds engaged in retaliation against and bullying towards two MMSD communications employees.

According to the document, the investigation found LeMonds stopped all efforts to give an employee a raise after he learned that same employee went to the district’s human resource department about the possible salary increase. It says LeMonds told at least two colleagues within the communications department that he would no longer be pursuing a salary increase for the employee because of their decision to contact HR. The investigators concluded LeMonds stopped interacting with that employee, didn’t answer their phone calls or emails after LeMonds learned they filed a complaint against him, impeding them from doing their job effectively.

Investigators also conclude that LeMonds reported concerns about this employee to HR but “inaccurately attributed the concerns to another employee.”

The investigation determined another employee was retaliated against and bullied by LeMonds. After LeMonds learned another employee filed a complaint against him, the investigation says LeMonds placed them on reception desk duty in retaliation.

LeMonds’ response

According to LeMonds’ lawyers, the pay raise delay was because of HR, not because of him. The response says LeMonds decided to pause pay raise talks for the employee due to labor negotiations occurring in May 2022. “As a supervisor, it was well within Tim’s right to pause this effort as he did not think the timing was appropriate.”

LeMonds’ lawyers go on to say he stopped interacting with that employee not because they filed a complaint against him, but because that employee was assigned a new supervisor. And while he says he may have missed a few emails and phone calls, it was not because LeMonds was treating this employee differently, but because “he was very busy with his own work and booked solid with meetings.”

LeMonds also says the claims are false that he was talking bad about the employee.

As for the other employee LeMonds is accused of retaliating against and bullying, LeMonds’ lawyers say LeMonds’ supervisor was the one that put the employee on desk duty, and that he was just following directions. He says temporarily covering the front desk was part of the job during the hybrid model during covid-19.

Investigative Finding #2: LeMonds was dishonest with district employees, including his supervisor, and insubordinate towards his supervisor.

While describing a communications position held by another employee, the conclusion shows LeMonds told that employee “the job is how I’ve described it to you, not HR.”

The investigation determined that in October of 2022, LeMonds provided “inaccurate information” to his supervisor about other employees. When told to work with HR on the issue, “when he did not receive the answers he wanted when the system interfered with his goals/objectives, Mr. LeMonds would disregard or undermine the efforts of HR and the District’s established systems.”

LeMonds’ response

LeMonds’ lawyers say in explaining the role to the employee, they should expect to be pulled into some different roles because of their experience in different fields because they could be an asset in multiple places. Those duties would fall under “other duties as assigned.” His lawyers say LeMonds did not rewrite the job description or “go rogue.”

Investigative Finding #3: While LeMonds led the communications department, employees experienced significant challenges as a result of his leadership style. They struggled to understand their role and work collaboratively and efficiently as a result of LeMonds’ refusal to utilize a set structure, job descriptions

The investigation determined employees’ job titles often changed based on LeMonds’ directives, finding out periodically about a new role or that someone else had been assigned their tasks.

LeMonds’ response

LeMonds’ lawyers discuss because of the pandemic and staffing shortages, team members were asked to work outside their normal roles to get essential work completed. Those duties, they argue, fell under the “other duties as assigned” set forth by the job description.

“Tim was faced with a Herculean task of completing vital projects during the closing phases of a pandemic and an unprecedented labor shortage. He used his team as best he could, and as well as anyone else would have under the circumstances.”

Investigative Finding #4: Evidence does not exist to support a conclusion that LeMonds engaged in discrimination or harassment on the basis of any protected classification towards four staff members.

“While Mr. LeMonds’ comments to employees in the Communications Department were often awkward and caused discomfort to others, the evidence does not support a conclusion that Mr. LeMonds’ conduct toward these employees was discriminatory or harassing, as those terms are defined in the District’s policies.”

Madison Metropolitan School District spokesperson Tim LeMonds appears during a Dane Co. court...
Madison Metropolitan School District spokesperson Tim LeMonds appears during a Dane Co. court hearing challenging the release of district records on May 25, 2023.

The investigative conclusion

The investigation ends with a conclusion saying LeMonds’ conduct warrants “serious disciplinary action, up to and including termination.” It goes on to say the communications department has become inefficient and ineffective under LeMonds’ leadership.

“It is clear that Mr. LeMonds’ continued employment in the position of Director of Communications will have a negative impact on retention of the current employees within the Department of Communications and will likely create an obstacle to attracting candidates to the Department.”

LeMonds’ response

LeMonds’ lawyers argue facts do not support the finding that the communications department has become ineffective and inefficient under LeMonds’ leadership. They cite accolades LeMonds earned in his 3.75 years with the district including a promotion, pay raise, and performance evaluations of “excellent” by his supervisors. The document says if there were issues or areas of improvement, LeMonds wasn’t made aware of them nor given the opportunity to make corrections.

“No employee is perfect. Any employee put through the microscopic scrutiny Tim has experienced would show some areas where he could do better,” says LeMonds’ lawyers.

The response goes on to blame “the media” for the controversy.

Background

MMSD has since paid out $40,000 plus unused sick leave to the former spokesperson, Tim LeMonds, according to open records. LeMonds retired from the district back in July following an internal investigation into a complaint alleging he harassed and bullied former and current MMSD employees.

A district document titled “SEPARATION AGREEMENT BETWEEN TIMOTHY LEMONDS AND THE MADISON METROPOLITAN SCHOOL DISTRICT” lays out the agreement made between the two when LeMonds retired back in July. LeMonds had been with the district since 2019.

The agreement says LeMonds voluntarily retired on July 17, 2023.

“The employee will retire with all benefits that he is entitled to under the relevant portions of the MMSD Employee Handbook.” The document goes on to say LeMonds received one lump sum payment of $40,000. In the mutual non-disparagement section, the district promises to “not make any statements or otherwise take any action intended or that may reasonably be expected to impair the goodwill, reputation, or good name” of LeMonds.

NBC15 went to court to fight for the release of the complaint that was investigated, the complaint LeMonds fought to keep secret. Dane County Judge Rhonda Lanford ultimately ruled in favor of NBC15 as Intervenors, that the school district, by law, has to release the records in full to NBC15. NBC15 originally filed the open records request that turned up the complaint to learn more about a high school football coach that later left an MMSD school after allegations of lying. The open records request was to find out where that request, now almost a year and a half old and still unanswered, was held up in the open records process with the district. Transparency issues weren’t only felt by media, but by parents and Madison organizations around the community.

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