APNewsBreak: Ohio cross-burning lawsuit ended

AP News
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Posted: Oct 21, 2010 8:36 PM
APNewsBreak: Ohio cross-burning lawsuit ended

An Ohio middle school teacher accused of burning images of crosses on students' arms has dropped a federal lawsuit that challenged his firing.

Notice of the lawsuit's dismissal was filed Thursday by attorneys for science teacher John Freshwater and the targets of his lawsuit, including current and former Mount Vernon school board members. Freshwater had sought $1 million in the 2009 lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus, arguing that his free speech and civil rights were violated. He also asked a judge to reinstate him to his position as an eight-grade teacher.

Sarah Moore, an attorney representing school board members and the Mount Vernon superintendent, confirmed the dismissal to The Associated Press and said her clients were pleased.

The Mount Vernon school board fired Freshwater in 2008, citing an internal investigation that found he had preached Christian beliefs in class. As late as July, he remained on unpaid administrative leave pending an appeal.

Freshwater, who had worked for the district since 1987, also was accused of using a scientific device to mark a student's arm with a cross and of keeping a Bible on his desk.

Court documents showed that Freshwater and parties named in the lawsuit were in settlement talks earlier this year. The document filed Thursday did not indicate whether a settlement had been reached.

The voice mail of Freshwater's attorney was not accepting messages, and an e-mail was not immediately answered.

Freshwater had claimed defamation and said he was harassed because of his religion and suffered a hostile work environment. He also claimed he faced discrimination because of his involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes student group.

The lawsuit said an outside consultant's investigative report on Freshwater that was disseminated to the public was incomplete and contained "scandalous allegations" that could result in retaliation against him.

He sought $500,000 in lost wages, pension pay and lost opportunity costs and $500,000 in punitive damages.

Mount Vernon is about 40 miles northeast of Columbus.