Principal's suit alleges coverup of sex at Pontiac High

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News
Pontiac High School

Pontiac — A former high school principal has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Pontiac School District, alleging she was moved out of her job after trying to call attention to an alleged cover-up of assaults and sex abuse of students by school officials.

According to her suit, filed in Oakland Circuit Court, Vanessa Cliett-Carter, 51, of Southfield claims as a result of reporting those issues and her concerns about low academic performance, she was subjected to “ostracism, contempt, harassment, threats, intimidation and finally actual demotion …”

Defendants named in the complaint include school consultant Kwame Simmons; Superintendent Kelley Williams; attorney Darryl K. Segars; Dr. Kimberly Leverette, assistant superintendent; Yolanda Kellum, director of human resources; and Lee Montgomery, assistant principal.

In a letter to parents, Williams said the lawsuit "falsely alleges sexual misconduct on school property and falsely accuses the district of trying to keep this information from coming to public light." 

Williams' letter also said an initial investigation found "the allegations were without merit."

Oakland County Undersheriff Mike McCabe said investigators received two Child Protection Services reports, on Jan. 18 and April 16, concerning still-unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct between students and school officials and security guards. 

“We are investigating whether state statutes were followed on reporting requirements by the school district,” McCabe said.

Calls to Williams' office Tuesday were referred to the district’s communications specialist, Latoya Smith.

“I cannot comment on the lawsuit or its allegations,” Smith said. “The school district has a different view of what took place and investigations that were done on complaints.

“The district feels it has acted appropriately and our attorney will be putting out a timeline of events as we see them,” she said.

The attorney was unavailable Tuesday, Smith said.

Neither Cliett-Carter nor her attorney could be reached for comment Tuesday. 

Her lawsuit claims that shortly after being hired in August 2018 as a “turnaround principal” at Pontiac High, she became aware of “a sincere lack of support, sincerity and caring for students which plagued her task of increasing the academic numbers and performance” at the school.

In the complaint, Cliett-Carter said the school “struggled with simple systems and structure due to a lack of vision, mission and direction from the Central Office.”

Cliett-Carter said while the school was in “critical state” there was a “pervasive amount of student failure” that the central administration “continues to cover up and refused to address,” according to her lawsuit.

Her complaint alleges that "over a million dollars has been spent on athletics, (despite) the fact that teachers struggled to obtain the most basic of instruction resources such as technology or teaching tools.”

In addition, Cliett-Carter said reports of abuse were “swept under the rug.”

Among her suit's allegations:

  • A student was choked and thrown on the floor by staff members in an incident captured on video, yet neither teacher was disciplined.
  • The district received a report of an inappropriate relationship between a student and a school custodian that involved "sexting." The suit alleges that a school officials ordered the student "to keep her mouth closed about what was going on at the high school." According to the complaint, the official received a verbal reprimand, while the custodian was fired and prosecuted.
  • A former student and an assistant principal both reported possible inappropriate sexual relationships by another assistant principal with three female students.
  • The same suspect assistant principal allegedly held up the continuation of food stamps to one victim’s family to secure sexual favors.
  • The former student who reported the sexual misconduct indicated he had a relationship with one of his teachers that resulted in her becoming pregnant.
  • The ex-student said he never attended class because his grades were “fixed” by his teachers because he was an All-State wrestler.
  • The ex-student said after making his allegations, he was “jumped” by someone who stuck a gun in his mouth. When he asked why he was being threatened, the gunman said the assistant principal suspected in the sex incidents had “sent him.”

Cliett-Carter said she was informed in January and February of this year that the internal investigation into misconduct was being closed. According to the suit, on Feb. 19, Cliett-Carter was told she was being moved to another Pontiac school, the International Technology Academy, and demoted to assistant principal.

In her suit, she said she was “escorted off the premises” as if she was a criminal, humiliated in front of students and staff.

Cliett-Carter reported on Feb. 25 that she had been sexually harassed by a staff member and subsequently met with an attorney for the school district, according to the complaint.

Cliett-Carter’s lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages, alleging violation of the state Whistleblowers Protection Act, which bars any discharge, threats or discrimination against an employee for reporting a violation or a suspected violation of a law, regulation or rule in the state.

She also seeks in excess of $25,000 in damages for the district allegedly failing to correct improper advances and demands for intimacy with school employees, specifically her own experience.

The lawsuit is assigned to Judge Denise Langford Morris.

(248) 338-0319