Nancy Sebring Thursday sued the Des Moines school district where she once worked, alleging officials there unlawfully conspired to make public her sexually explicit emails.
Release of the emails last year spoiled her bid to become superintendent of the Omaha Public Schools.
The job would have been the culmination of a long and accomplished career, but instead their release left her shamed and unable to find work, according to the lawsuit filed in Polk County, Iowa, district court.
In the lawsuit, Sebring claims that officials with the Des Moines Independent Community School District “wrongfully undertook steps to ensure the purely personal and private emails would come to the attention of the Des Moines Register and to the public.”
The lawsuit alleges such actions invaded her privacy, interfered with her contract with the Omaha district and intentionally caused her severe emotional distress.
Sebring's lawsuit specifically names as defendants former school board president Teree Caldwell-Johnson, director of community relations Philip Roeder and counsel Patricia Lantz.
“I believe people should be held accountable for the decisions they make, and actions they took, just as I was held accountable,” Sebring told The World-Herald Thursday. “I think that's important for me to be able to move forward.”
The lawsuit, she said, gives her a chance to tell her side of the story.
“I think people were aware of what happened,” she said. “I don't know that people were ever aware of how it happened. Certainly I don't understand why it happened, but that's what we hope to find out by pursuing the lawsuit.”
Attempts to reach Caldwell-Johnson, Roeder and Lantz were unsuccessful Thursday.
Phone messages for the current Des Moines board president and vice president were not returned.
In April 2012, the Omaha School Board selected Sebring to replace the retiring John Mackiel.
Within weeks, Sebring abruptly resigned from her job as Des Moines superintendent, seven weeks before she had planned. Sebring cited personal reasons for her resignation, however, it was later learned she stepped down after Des Moines officials had confronted her about the emails.
Although a World-Herald records request had led Des Moines officials to discover the emails, the Des Moines Register obtained them before The World-Herald.
Sebring alleges that an employee or employees in the Des Moines district told the Des Moines Register about the World-Herald request and the emails, prompting that newspaper to submit a request for them.
Both papers published stories about the emails on the same day.
The next day, Sebring resigned the Omaha job, a month before she was scheduled to start work.
Tom Foley, a Des Moines attorney who is representing Sebring, issued a statement Thursday claiming that “the unwarranted and unlawful release of the private emails has destroyed Nancy's life and her career.”
Sebring told The World-Herald that she has not been able to find work. She declined to say where she is living.
The lawsuit alleges that Caldwell-Johnson, Roeder and Lantz “either individually or working in concert, wrongfully undertook steps to ensure the purely personal and private emails would come to the attention of the Des Moines Register and to the public.”
Sebring claims that those same employees, individually or in concert, also disseminated information about the emails to the staff of the Omaha Public Schools.
Sebring claims she has suffered damages, including “severe emotional distress, mental anguish, pain and suffering, embarrassment, humiliation, reduced earning capacity and lost past and future wages and benefits.”
The lawsuit asks the court to award her damages and make the defendants pay for her lost earnings and compensate her for the distress and suffering. It also asks for punitive damages against Caldwell-Johnson, Roeder and Lantz.