Claudia Medina, a Proviso Township High Schools board member, has filed a libel lawsuit against District 209 Superintendent James Henderson, the other six elected school board members and the school district. The suit was filed May 11 in the Law Division of Cook County Circuit Court.
Medina is being represented by attorney Anthony Peraica, the former Cook County commissioner. In addition to Henderson, the lawsuit names District 209 school board President Rodney Alexander and school board members Theresa Kelly, Amanda Grant, Nathan Wagner, Samuel Valtierrez and Arbdella Patterson as individual defendants.
The three-count lawsuit alleges defamation, false light and civil conspiracy and seeks monetary damages, “exemplary damages” to deter similar acts in the future and attorney’s fees.
Medina is alleging defamation based primarily on statements made by the defendants that Medina is racist, including accusations in a “Setting the Record Straight” mailer, which appears to have been written by or on behalf of Alexander and was sent to residents throughout the Proviso Township district using more than $13,000 of school district funds.
Among the defamatory statements in that 16-page mailer, the lawsuit alleges, is one claiming Medina is someone “who hates Black men in leadership” and another claiming she spread information from a disgruntled person from the Holmes County School District in Mississippi, where Henderson previously worked. Doing so, the mailer stated, was “akin to placing confidence in someone who believes the Democratic Party is guilty of all the conspiracies invented by QAnon followers.”
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants knew the allegations were false when creating and publishing the mailer or “acted with willful and wanton or reckless disregard concerning the veracity of the allegations.”
It is also alleged that the defendants’ statements “were published maliciously and with intent to destroy the plaintiff’s reputation in general and her ability to accomplish anything as a board member.”
In addition, the suit accuses the defendants of placing Medina “in a false light before the public,” which constitutes “actual malice.”
The lawsuit also claims the defendants “entered into an agreement to engage in sending the mailers to voters, knowing that the mailers would contain defamatory statements against [Medina].”
Their intent, the complaint alleges, was to defame Medina “in order to orchestrate her removal or influence on the board.”
The complaint alleges that the defendants’ actions injured Medina’s reputation, enumerating several examples in addition to the “Setting the Record Straight” mailer. For example, the lawsuit states that, on March 9, Patterson made a comment during a school board meeting questioning Medina’s mental health, causing Kelly to giggle in response.
During that same meeting, the suit alleges, Alexander read aloud a private email from Medina. Alexander prefaced his reading of the email with remarks about the 1915 movie “Birth of a Nation” and the Ku Klux Klan. In doing so, Alexander “equated Medina’s email to racism,” the lawsuit alleges.
Peraica told the Review he expects the defendants to file a motion to dismiss the case, but said he’s confident the case will proceed.
“I feel strong that Medina has a strong and viable case,” Peraica said.
The Review has reached out to the defendants and will update the story when it receives responses from them.