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Teacher can seek punitive damages from St. Paul School District

A U.S. magistrate judge has ruled that Aaron Benner, a former St. Paul school teacher, can pursue punitive damages from the district when his case goes to trial in federal court this October, according to the Star Tribune.

Benner, a teacher with an impeccable 20-year career, sued the district for allegedly retaliating against him after he challenged its discipline policies.

At a school board meeting in May 2014, Benner spoke out against the St. Paul Public Schools’ new “racial equity” policy, as he believed it was doing a disservice to students of color by not holding them accountable for disruptive behavior.

During the 2014-2015 school year, Benner endured an onslaught of attacks that included four district-led investigations. According to the Strib, Benner said later that “he felt he had no choice but to resign, and he alleges he was a victim of race discrimination and retaliation under the whistleblower act.”

The district initially pushed back against being subject to punitive damages under the Minnesota Whistleblower Act, pointing to a missed deadline by Benner’s attorney. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine Menendez wrote in her ruling that “the whistleblower act states that emplyees have the right to recover ‘any and all damages’ and that it gave no explicit exemption or limits on punitive damages to ‘municipal employers’ under the law,” reports the Strib. 

What the Star Tribune failed to include in its recap of Benner’s story is that throughout his traumatic school year, his teachers’ union was not on his side.

“My union rep tried to have me plea to one of the investigations which made it clear to me that my union was complicit with the district,” Benner said in an interview with For Kids & Country. “My problem with my union is that they sat back and allowed the St. Paul School District to harass me and did nothing. They took my union dues and did nothing to represent me.”

The St. Paul school board is scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting tomorrow (Thursday) to discuss Benner’s case.

The Center will continue to cover Aaron Benner’s story and his bravery and courage for telling the truth about the tragic impact St. Paul Public Schools’ misguided disciplinary policy has on students and teachers alike.

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