Fired Niles teacher sues for $4M
By Jordan Cohen
Christopher Chieffo, the teacher fired last month by the board of education for falsification of sick leave, has filed suit against the board, superintendent and other school administrators for $4 million in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Chieffo, joined in the lawsuit by his wife, Abbey, also a Niles teacher, accuses the defendants of civil fraud, defamation and civil conspiracy.
Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen and board President Susan Gianetti Longacre are also named as individual defendants as is Thigpen’s husband, Michael, owner of an excavating company.
The Thigpens and Chieffos live on the same street in Girard, according to the lawsuit.
In a unanimous vote, the board fired Chieffo on Jan.18. According to his personnel file, he called off sick last Oct. 3 when he was actually coaching the Howland High School boys golf team at a tournament in Alliance.
The suit contends the information provided to and published by The Vindicator and other local media is “false and defamatory,” but provides no further information.
Newspaper accounts of the tournament indicated that Chieffo was at the tournament.
“We’re not saying he was or wasn’t there,” the couple’s attorney, Kelly Newbrough, told The Vindicator on Tuesday. “We’re saying [the board didn’t] produce one shred of evidence prior to the vote.”
The suit accuses the defendants of interfering with Chieffo’s “business relationship” with Howland schools.
The 62-page lawsuit also contends that Thigpen and other school employees had already selected a high-school principal in 2016 before the required interview process. Christopher Chieffo was one of the unsuccessful applicants.
It states that Thigpen placed Chieffo on a “professional improvement plan” after she alleged he made “inappropriate comments” about the hiring, allegations the suit refers to as false.
“We can’t publicly comment on pending litigation, but we look forward to responding to the complaint,” Thigpen said.
Thigpen’s husband is listed as a defendant because of alleged actions he took when the Chieffos hired another excavating company for work on their property. The superintendent called the inclusion of her husband in the lawsuit “unfortunate.”
The complaint accuses Longacre of invasion of privacy because of a text message it claims she made when the Chieffos were married last July. It claims the board president used a sexual expletive in a text message because she was not invited to the wedding.
The board president said she did not wish to comment until she meets with her legal counsel.
Newbrough is a former Niles teacher who had his own run-in with the administration when he was on the faculty. He was suspended for 10 days without pay by then Superintendent Rocco Adduci in 2010 for intimidating a student. He resigned later that year and eventually completed law school.
“There wasn’t anyone there to support me, and I promised myself to support anybody else like the Chieffos who are placed in that position,” he said.
Christopher Chieffo is scheduled for a Feb. 23 grievance hearing against his dismissal filed by the Niles Education Association, the teachers’ bargaining unit. Chieffo’s wife is NEA treasurer. Thigpen said the hearing will be private at Chieffo’s request.