Former Jackson election opponent sues for discrimination

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The lawsuit declares that as a result of the actions taken against her by Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson and her subordinates, Marline Van Dyke has suffered the loss of past and future wages and benefits.


Okaloosa County’s troubled school district has taken another blow, this one in the form of a lawsuit filed by Marline Van Dyke, who ran for school superintendent against Mary Beth Jackson in 2016.

Van Dyke alleges that she was discriminated against while an employee of the Okaloosa County district, particularly after she decided to run for superintendent.

She “was subjected to disparate treatment, different terms and conditions of employment and held to a different standard,” according to the lawsuit, filed Dec. 5 on Van Dyke’s behalf by attorney Marie Mattox.

The lawsuit specifically targets four people whose names have appeared in the news often in the last few months as controversy has swirled around the district.

“The mistreatment came at the hands of specifically, but not limited to, Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Jackson, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Stacie Smith, Human Resources Investigator Arden Farley and Henry Kelley,” the suit said.

Kelley has several titles, including program director of community affairs.

In response to an email, Jackson referred questions about the lawsuit to Jeff McInnis, the Okaloosa County School Board’s attorney. McInnis confirmed the lawsuit had been served as of Thursday afternoon, but said he had not had the opportunity to review it.

The suit alleges the discrimination began soon after Jackson defeated incumbent Alexis Tibbetts to become superintendent. “After Jackson won the election, she called (Van Dyke) while (Van Dyke) was at home and stated, ‘I know you supported Alexis; I’ll try to overlook that.’ ”

It chronicles three job changes it claims were forced upon Van Dyke and, ultimately, her termination.

The suit claims Jackson targeted Van Dyke and Van Dyke’s daughter, also employed by the school district, and had Farley initiate an investigation against Van Dyke that she contends violated the district’s own whistleblower protection policy.

Farley confirmed he had investigated Van Dyke and that he’d treated the investigation as he treats all cases that have come to him in his 22 years with the school district.

“I did the investigation and I turned it over, like I do all of them, to my supervisor (Smith),” he said. “What happens after that is out of my hands, it depends on what the superintendent and my supervisor decide to do.”

Van Dyke alleges that shortly after she qualified to run for superintendent she suffered a medical setback and requested medical leave. Soon thereafter Kelley paid her a visit, it said.

“Shockingly, he stated, ‘When the voters find out that you are sick again, they won’t vote for you,’ ” the suit contends. In response (Van Dyke) asked Kelley if he would really put her personal information out to the public. He stated, “politics are a dirty business … this could be a win-win.”

The suit states Van Dyke inquired about the “win-win” statement and was told “If you step down due to medical issues the superintendent will take care of you and you can continue to be a principal.”

“Kelley unjustly and knowingly used (Van Dyke’s) health condition as a means of disparagement and ridicule in exchange for (Van Dyke) stepping down as a candidate in order to maintain her job as principal,” the suit states.

Kelley did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations Van Dyke has made against him.

The suit declares that as a result of the actions taken against her by Jackson and her subordinates, she has suffered the loss of past and future wages and benefits. It asks for damages, attorney’s fees and a ruling from the court ordering the school district to commit no more of the violations of law outlined in the lawsuit.

Van Dyke said she could not comment on the case without first consulting with her attorney. Mattox did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

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