Ex-principal sues district after gifting wooden penis to employee

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — He says it was a parting gift between two friends at a St. Clair County high school based on an inside joke. 

His employer thought otherwise.

A wooden penis given to a female security guard at the high school by the principal is now the subject of a civil lawsuit in federal court in Detroit. 

The school's superintendent alleges the gift was given in front of others, and the woman also cried repeatedly after receiving it and that she felt sexually harassed by it.

John Stanton, former principal of Anchor Bay High School, is suing the district's superintendent, Leonard Woodside, alleging his constitutional rights were violated when he was forced to resign from his job in June 2017 after giving the gift to the woman as she left for another job in the district.

Stanton alleges in the lawsuit the woman had first given him the wooden penis after she confiscated it from a student at the high school.

At the end of her employment, "Mr. Stanton returned the wooden penis to her as a parting gift and they shared a final laugh together," Stanton's lawsuit alleges.

According to a photograph in the court file, Stanton allegedly wrote a message on the gift: "Hope your job isn't too hard! John/ABH"

Woodside's lawyers allege the woman cried after receiving the gift that she says made her "so embarrassed and so uncomfortable."

The woman called a district director of student services to share her feelings and the information was presented to Woodside, according to court records. Stanton admitted to giving the gift and was asked to resign by Woodside, said John Miller, attorney for Woodside.

Stanton declined to go before the Board of Education to discuss the allegations and his resignation, which was his right by law, Miller said. He was given a date to appear and declined, Miller said.

"This is a public school principal who is supposed to be a role model for children, and he gave a wood penis with a profane message to an employee," Miller said.

Miller said Stanton filed the same lawsuit in St. Clair County Court in 2018, which was dismissed in the fall and refiled the same case in federal court in January.

"For us in public schools, this is no different than a teacher having an inappropriate relationship with a student," Miller said. "There are certain things that are unacceptable in school districts and giving a wooden penis is one of them."

But the principal's attorney, John Lovell, said Stanton was lied to by the district when district officials said the woman was upset by the gift. When he was asked to resign, he thought the allegations the woman was upset were true.

Lovell said the woman reached out to Stanton a month after he resigned and allegedly told him she was not upset.

The woman filed an affidavit in the lawsuit in February and said she "was not offended and even went home and showed my family and they all thought it was funny." 

Stanton found employment with Livonia Public Schools in August but left after the district learned of the incident and asked him to resign, according to the lawsuit.

Attempts to reach the female security guard in the case were unsuccessful.

Lovell said Stanton, whose nickname is Jack, now says it was a lapse in judgment to give the gift.

"If he could take it back, he would not have done that," Lovell said. "Again, it was a private joke and was something joked about by (the woman). She would bring it up to him and joke about it over the years. She referred to it as the Jack Stanton award."

Stanton is suing with his wife, Robin Stanton, saying the allegations against him place a stigma on his wife, who was the principal of Anchor Bay Middle School at the time of the 2017 incident.

Robin resigned in June. The lawsuit says she was unable to return to work due to "the false accusations" against her husband, and she alleges she was stripped of duties in her post.

In the lawsuit, Stanton alleges he and his wife have suffered loss of employment, loss of reputation, pain and suffering, emotional distress and humiliation.

They are seeking punitive damages and attorneys fees in the case before U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker.

No hearing date has been set for the case.