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Fired for breaking up fight, former EAA teacher sues in federal court

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office

A former Detroit high school teacher is suing the state-run Education Achievement Authority in federal court.

Tiffani Eaton used a broom to break up fighting students at Pershing High School, one of 15 schools the EAA runs in Detroit, in April last year. The incident was captured on cell phone video, and the district fired her.

Following a public outcry, the EAA reversed that decision. But Eaton’s attorney, Jim Rasor, says Eaton now suffers from psychiatric problems and can’t return to work as a teacher.

The lawsuit alleges that the EAA created “incredibly dangerous” conditions with lax security at the school, and knowingly put the student who started the fight back in the classroom without proper warning.

“The EAA allowed a student who is a suspected gang member back into the classroom without the necessary hearings after he’d been suspended,” Rasor says. “They exposed [Eaton] to that danger.”

Rasor also says that Pershing teachers often break up fights — but only Eaton, an African American woman, was punished so severely and “publicly humiliated.”

“That is actionable under federal law,” Rasor says. “It’s discriminatory, and it’s a failure to keep her and her students safe.

“They treated her differently because she exposed their gross negligence in allowing these conditions to fester in these schools.”

Rasor says the EAA has been “unresponsive” to requests for information about security conditions, disciplinary actions and other information.

The district declined to comment on a pending lawsuit.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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