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Indiana Court of Appeals visits South Bend to hear case involving retaliation against SBCSC teacher

South Bend School Corporation Headquarters building in February 2024.
Marek Mazurek, WVPE
South Bend School Corporation Headquarters building in February 2024.

Members of the Indiana Court of Appeals were in South Bend on Monday to hear arguments in a lawsuit involving the South Bend school corporation wrongfully forcing a teacher to resign.

The hearing taking place in South Bend was part of the appeals court's Appeals on Wheels initiative meant to increase accessibility and transparency to the court system.

On Monday, the Appeals on Wheels show came to South Bend with judges sitting in a St. Joseph County courtroom to hear arguments on whether the South Bend School system retaliated against Connie Grabowski for trying to file for workmen's compensation following her falling while on the job.

Grabowski was awarded $600,000 but the school district is appealing the case, which involves alleged retaliation against Grabowski for both the workmen's comp claim and for naming the grandson of a sitting school board member.


Grabowski was a teacher at Wilson Elementary until 2016 when she fell — spraining her wrist and ankle — while supervising a group of students lining up to use the restroom.

In an accident report the school asked her to file the day of the fall, Grabowski named a student she believed had run in front of her, partially causing the fall. That student happened to be the grandson of Dawn Jones, who was on the South Bend school board at that time and later was elected as the city’s clerk.

Grabowski filed a workmen's compensation accident report form per school policy and upon reviewing a video tape of her fall, agreed with administrators that the boy running into her was an accident.

Grabowski's attorney Pat O'Leary told appeals court judges on Monday that was the last Grabowski expected to hear about the incident until a few days later when the district was suspended and then asked to sign a "last chance agreement" which stipulated she could be fired for any minor infraction thereafter.

Grabowski was advised she would likely be fired if she didn't sign the agreement and she resigned instead, believing the school district was coming down hard on her because she named Jones' grandson in her accident report, even though she didn't say he did anything wrong.

“She was basically being asked to put her head in the guillotine and trusting they weren’t going to pull the lever six weeks later," O'Leary told appeals court judges.

"Her naming the child, the grandson of a board member, caused the animosity of the administrators. They wanted her to concede they tripped over her own shoes," O'Leary continued, noting that if Grabowski had caved and said she purely tripped, she wouldnt have been eligible to receive workmen's comp.

A jury last year sided with Grabowski, finding school administrators did retaliate because she planned to file a claim for workmen's compensation. The $600,000 was slightly more than Grabowski would have made had she worked at Wilson during the time in which the litigation played out.

Meanwhile the district maintains Grabowski didn't present enough evidence at trial for jurors to find the school acted improperly. The district also says that the student in question had told his parents Grabowski allegedly was bullying him and his family thought Grabowski naming him in her accident report was retaliation for that.

The matter is now in the hands of the appeals court, who will rule sometime in the coming months.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.