Hester said she and her coworker pictured in the photo were put on seven weeks of paid administrative leave, and they were eventually suspended for ten days. She said the coworker, who was up for tenure, was forced to resign.
Bill Young, an attorney representing Hester through the Michigan Education Association, said Hester's case will go before a private arbiter under the collective bargaining agreement in late May. Young said the coworker has taken another job.
Hester said she returned to work in September when the school year began. While Hester previously worked assisting a teacher for emotionally impaired students in kindergarten through the fourth grade, she was assigned another program and was placed under a strict directive. She said was instructed not to speak with coworkers unless it was about a student and could not go to the bathroom before asking.
"I was the only one in the whole building who had documented breaks," she said. "Eventually I got a directive that said I could not miss any school."
She said her contract allowed her 14 paid days off but the school would not let her use them. She said she was also directed to read books about communication and to take 49 online classes. She said that and the work environment at school took a toll on her emotionally in November 2011.
"I had a nervous breakdown, went to hospital and was put on medication," said Hester, who has been on unpaid leave since November.
Hester said she went on leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act at first. Then, she said, the superintendent refused to give her benefits. Next week she will have a pre-trial hearing for worker's compensation. She is demanding her job back and back pay, $15,000 to date.
"I love my job. I'm great at my job and my students are suffering without me. They still have issues every day and it's not fair that I had to be ripped away from that."
She also wants an apology from the school.
"My name has been dragged through the mud. Still, to this day, I'm under a directive where I cannot speak to my coworkers. People think I'm a horrible person and I'm a criminal."
Hester said she doesn't "want a lot" though she lost her house this year. She also said her three children, ages 8, 5, and 4, have suffered because she does not have a steady income.
"I can't get another income because I'm on this medication," she said. "I break out in hives. Emotionally, this is draining to me."
McCormick said most labor agreements involving unions indicate an employee can be disciplined or discharged for proper or just cause, or similar language.
"The question for the arbitrator is whether the district had just cause," he said, adding that the burden is most likely on the school district to prove so.
"When an employee is being disciplined for off-duty conduct or misconduct, the employer bears a pretty substantial burden to show that the alleged conduct bore some kind of connection to her ability to perform her work or directly in an adverse way to provide education services to the community," he said. "They are going to have to show what she did gave her just cause to terminate her."