DETROIT (WWJ) – A Detroit teacher who lost her job last year after using a broomstick to try to break up a violent fight between two teenage boys has filed a federal lawsuit against the Michigan-run Education Achievement Authority — and her attorney thinks she deserves $25 million in damages.

The incident was captured on a cellphone video that quickly went viral and made headlines nationwide. It happened April 30, 2014 in Tiffani Eaton-Davis’ ninth-grade classroom at Pershing High School.

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Video shows the boys slugging it out, knocking over desks as classmates scream in horror. The video also shows Eaton-Davis — who is smaller than both boys — hitting one across his back with a broom in an attempt to stop the altercation. The student backs off after being hit with the broom, but the other student runs towards him and the fight continues. The scuffle, which lasted over a minute, eventually ended when another classmate stepped in and separated the boys.

Click here to watch the video. (WARNING: Video contains explicit language)

Following the incident, Eaton-Davis claimed administrations told her she could either resign or be terminated. When she refused to quit, she was fired for apparently violating the corporal punishment provision under the Michigan school code. After public outrage, the EAA eventually reinstated Eaton-Davis and told her she could pick any school within the district — but she declined.

Attorney Jim Rasor said no one warned Eaton-Davis or prepared her for the “violent” environment at Pershing High School.

“We were shocked to find out that part of the job that teachers had to perform at Pershing was breaking up fights on a daily basis,” Rasor told WWJ’s Zahra Huber. “It was a terrible learning environment for the kids and it was dangerous for the teachers. They didn’t warn her and they knew, and they should have.”

Furthermore, the lawsuit states that one of the boys involved in the altercation shouldn’t have even been in the classroom, according to Rasor.

“The young boy who was trying to kill the other kid in the video, turns out to be a suspected gang member who had been disciplined and who was suspended from school. He required a hearing to return to the classroom but EAA waived that hearing, put him in that classroom, and didn’t warn Tiffani Eaton,” he said. “Why did they [EAA] use Tiffani Eaton as a whipping boy for their own gross negligence?”

The lawsuit claims that Eaton-Davis was discriminated against for being African-American and for being a woman — because other teachers who physically intervened in fights were never disciplined.

Click here to read the lawsuit (.pdf format)

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The EAA declined to comment on the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages — although Rasor told reporters he would suggest around $25 million.

“Our information shows that teachers of European descent and men who are teachers were never sanctioned for breaking up fights and using force to break up fights in the classroom. In fact, it was expected. But Tiffani exposed them for their gross negligence in the classroom, exposed how dangerous the school system was, and she did it as an African-American woman,” said Rasor. “We believe that was part of the motivation of the public humiliation, the public lynching that EAA performed on Tiffani Eaton.”

The lawsuit also claims that Eaton-Davis in now suffering from psychological distress because of the incident.

“Especially after the event and after it became public,” said Rasor. “The EAA took her to the office, treated her horribly and told her that she had done wrong and tried to force her to resign her job. The lack of support from EAA and the public humiliation that she suffered caused her major psychiatric illness and causes her to be unable to return to work as a teacher.”

But the biggest injustice in this case, Rasor said, is that Eaton-Davis’ career and dream of becoming a teacher is now crushed.

“There is no way that Tiffani is ever going to be able to become employed as a teacher now that there is this public humiliation. The fact is, how is she going to go to any school district? She’s always going to be ‘that teacher,'” said Rasor. “This is about the destruction of her dream and her career.”

Rasor said he did approach the EAA district in attempt to avoid taking the case to court, but he fell on deaf ears and “a lawsuit was our only option to bring justice to this case.”

“EAA doesn’t want to show the truth in this case, and the truth is that they knew that the security didn’t protect the teachers or the children. They knew that the teachers were expected to break up these violent fights. They knew that this young boy never should have been let into school. They want to hide that truth and we’re not going to let them,” said Rasor. “We’ll seek justice from a jury for those breaches of their duties.”

When contacted for comment, the EAA said it was against their policy to comment on pending lawsuits.

 

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