Insurance Company Must Defend Wis. School Employee in Defamation Suit

November 1, 2007

A school’s insurance company must pay the attorney fees and expenses of an administrative assistant who was sued for defamation, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Gail Haack, who worked for former Algoma School Superintendent Mark Smits, wrote a letter in 2003 disparaging the wife of Algoma High School’s principal, who worked as a school psychologist for another district. She said Sandra LeRoy displayed unstable and dangerous behavior and could be dangerous to children, according to court records.

LeRoy sued Haack after Smits’ wife gave copies of the letter to the state Department of Public Instruction and the University of Wisconsin, court records said.

Haack wrote the letter to “further her employer’s interest,” the 3rd District Court of Appeals said in overturning a Kewaunee County judge’s decision. Therefore, the school’s liability insurance company, Community Insurance Corp. of Madison, had a duty to defend Haack in the lawsuit, the three-judge panel said.

The insurance company had contended Haack’s letter was part of “a personal squabble of some sort.” The appeals court said that could be true because it was not written on school letterhead. But it said uncertainty on this point meant she should be covered by the insurance.

LeRoy eventually dismissed the defamation lawsuit without recovering damages from Haack, court records said.

The appeals court ordered Haack’s case back to the lower court for attorney fees to be determined.

Haack’s attorney, Robert Nesemann, did not immediately return a telephone message for comment.

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