The Medina Board of Education will vote Monday night on a $750,000 settlement to a lawsuit former Superintendent Randy Stepp brought against the school board that fired him.
In a Friday night news release, the district said it recommends that the school board accept the settlement agreement of $750,000. Liberty Mutual, the board’s insurer, will cover the full amount, and the district will not pay any portion it, the release says.
The settlement payment “is based upon a compromise of all of Stepp’s claims against the defendants inclusive of costs, attorneys’ fees and interest on the settlement payment.”
In 2013, Stepp was fired after a state audit found more than $4,000 in what was termed “illegal spending” by him and more than $1.5 million in spending that wasn’t properly documented or was said to have had no clear public purpose.
The audit was requested in the wake of public outcry over the school board awarding Stepp an $83,000 bonus and paying $172,000 in student loans that Stepp accrued before he became superintendent — all while the district sought to pass a levy for more public funding.
The legal battle between the board and Stepp has bounced between federal and common pleas courts since 2013.
In April of that year, the board placed Stepp on paid leave pending the outcome of a state audit into his spending of district funds and rescinded his new contact, which the board unanimously approved, in January.
In May, Stepp sued in U.S. District Court in Akron, asking he be awarded the “full value” of his Jan. 7, five-year contract — valued at $1.2 million by the Medina teachers union — and compensation for damage to his reputation and “mental anguish and suffering,” along with attorney fees and court costs.
The district countersued in October, demanding more than $1 million in damages.
Almost a year later, in June, a federal magistrate recommended the dismissal of Stepp’s challenge to the Medina board’s decision to rescind his contract, citing the contract issues raised in the lawsuit are grounded in state law and should be handled by a common pleas court rather than federal court.
On Aug. 20, 2014, the case landed in Medina County Common Pleas Court. Stepp sued for breach of contract, defamation and invasion of privacy. Named in the suit were former school board members Karla Robinson, Susan Vlcek, William Grenfell and Charles Freeman. Jim Shields, the school district’s human resources director and general legal counsel, also was named.
Board members and Shields, in court filings, asserted they had no idea public funds had been used to pay off Stepp’s student loan debt.
But Stepp in his suit said details of the contract were included in telephone and email exchanges with Vlcek and Shields.
The board and Shields separately sought summary judgments against Stepp’s claims, which Visiting Judge Thomas J. Pokorny denied. Both appealed to the 9th district Court of Appeals and were denied.
“Randy is looking forward to finally having his case heard by a fair and impartial jury. We are confident we will prevail,” Stepp’s attorney, Michael J. Matasich, said in an email following the appeals court’s ruling against the school board in 2016.
On Friday, he said he could not comment on the pending case.
Neither former board members nor Shields could be reached for comment Friday. Medina Superintendent Aaron Sable did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Attorney Warren Rosman, who is representing board members, also declined to comment but acknowledged he would be at Monday’s board meeting when reached prior to the school district’s Friday news release.
Pokorny said in a voice message Friday that “The lawyers were instructed by me to have an entry that I should be able to sign and submit to the court by the end of the month.”
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