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SAU 44 officials deny allegations by former employee

BRENTWOOD — Officials from School Administrative Unit 44 deny allegations made in a lawsuit filed by a former special education director who claims nothing was done to end a false rumor that ruined her personal and professional reputations.

SAU 44, the SAU Joint School Board, and former Superintendent Michael Ludwell say they're not liable for the damages claimed by Anne Kebler, who quit her job as the SAU's special education director last year.

Kebler filed a civil lawsuit in Rockingham County Superior Court in March, claiming the school administration failed to stop a false rumor accusing her of having an extramarital affair with another school employee.

Kebler argues the rumor became widespread throughout SAU 44, which caused her emotional distress and created a hostile work environment — a claim the school denies in its response to the suit filed recently by its law firm, Jackson Lewis LLP.

As the months went on, Kebler insists that the rumor spread from the SAU, which serves Northwood, Nottingham, and Strafford, into the community.

The rumor allegedly began in November 2011 when one or more unnamed "Doe Defendants" told coworkers that Kebler was having an affair with another SAU employee, the suit said.

Kebler denied the affair and stated that she has been "happily and faithfully married for more than 36 years."

In her suit, Kebler claims she met with Ludwell, who retired as superintendent at the end of June, and asked that he investigate and take steps to stop the rumor, but that nothing was done.

The school denies allegations that Ludwell failed to take action.

In its response, the school says Ludwell and Kebler discussed the results of his investigation into the rumor and that other SAU employees stated they were unaware of how it started.

At one point, Kebler claims she asked Ludwell to meet with the SAU Joint Board about her complaints but he asked her if he could wait until after he received his new employment contract. Kebler didn't want him to wait and decided to meet with the board on her own.

After the meeting, Kebler claims Ludwell blamed her and her comments for the board's renewal of his contract without a pay raise. The school denies the allegation, but did admit that Ludwell asked Kebler to wait to speak with the board "until after they had resolved his contract."

In its response, the school maintains that it acted in "good faith" and that Kebler did not suffer any damages attributable to the actions of Ludwell, the SAU or the SAU Joint Board.

Any damages she suffered were caused by "her own acts or omissions," the school argues.

The school insists that it did not act with "malice" and denies that any defamatory remarks were made about Kebler that harmed her personal or professional reputation.

The case is scheduled for jury trial in September 2014.


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