Sliwinski allegedly harassed teacher at LOHS
By Jim Newell
Orion Township officials have received anonymous statements and copies of emails accusing Trustee Ron Sliwinski of sexual harassment while he was a teacher at Lake Orion High School last school year.
Sliwinski is also under investigation after a complaint was filed with the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office.
Supervisor Chris Barnett said the township received 44 envelopes on Nov. 6 containing an unsigned statement and copies of emails accusing Sliwinski of harassing a fellow teacher.
The Lake Orion Review has obtained copies of the documents through another source.
The email exchanges, dated May 2, 2017, are between a married female teacher who claims the harassment had gone on for years, and, according to the documents, included unwanted physical touching, vulgar gestures and inappropriate comments about the teacher’s appearance and sex life.
Sliwinski is a former special education teacher at Lake Orion High School and also was the JV football coach.
He was elected as an Orion Township trustee in November 2016 while still employed with Lake Orion schools.
Undersheriff Mike McCabe confirmed last week that the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office had received a complaint against Sliwinski at the Orion Township Substation.
“A complaint has been filed,” McCabe said. “We do have an ongoing investigation.”
The investigation has been turned over to the Sheriff’s Special Investigations Unit, the Major Crimes and Professional Standards unit of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office. The SIU consists of six detective sergeants who investigate cases ranging from major crimes to internal affairs.
“Whenever anything occurs at one of our substations that could present a conflict, we bring it downtown,” McCabe said, adding that the sheriff’s office does not comment on ongoing investigations. “Once our investigation is complete, we will turn it over to the county prosecutor’s office.”
Township administrators sent a notice the day after receiving the allegations against Sliwinski to all township employees regarding the documents and sexual harassment in general:
“Yesterday, November 6, 2017 the Orion Township Board of Trustees, department heads, and many employees received by U.S. mail an unsigned statement with attached documents alleging inappropriate behavior of Trustee Ron Sliwinski.
“While the allegations involve behavior outside of Mr. Sliwinski’s duties as a Board member, the Township has notified its employees of the allegations and requested anyone who has experienced work place harassment or intimidation to notify the appropriate supervisor or Township representative.
“Although the Board of Trustees is limited in any action it may take involving an elected official, the Township Administration is committed to following its sexual harassment policy and the investigation of any complaint of harassment or a hostile work environment.”
The Lake Orion Review sent inquiries to Sliwinski through both his personal and township emails but did not receive a response to a request for comment by press time.
Lake Orion Community Schools Superintendent Marion Ginopolis said she could not violate employee confidentiality laws by commenting on any employee-related issue, but released a statement to The Lake Orion Review on Friday:
“Ron Sliwinski resigned from his employment with the District on June 6, 2017. Personnel issues are classified as confidential for all employees and the District cannot disclose any information or confirm if allegations you received from an anonymous source are true or not.”
“We take all complaints very seriously and want a safe working environment for all our employees,” said Jeff Faber, president of the Lake Orion Education Association.
Faber confirmed that Sliwinski was a tenured teacher at Lake Orion High School, adding that, “He is no longer a part of the LOEA at this time.”
After leaving Lake Orion schools, Sliwinski took a position as a special education teacher at Waterford Mott High School.
Attempts to reach Waterford schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Wunderlich for comment and verification of Sliwinski’s employment with the district were unsuccessful. However, Sliwinski was listed as a special education teacher at Waterford Mott High School in the district’s online staff directory as of Monday.
Since Sliwinski’s resignation from Lake Orion he has appeared at school functions, including standing on the sidelines at Lake Orion’s Homecoming football game on Oct. 20.
The allegations and emails against Sliwinski
The emails between Sliwinski and the teacher he is accused of harassing appear to be made through school district assigned email addresses; however, Lake Orion schools would not confirm the authenticity of the emails.
The emails begin with the teacher demanding that Sliwinski stop harassing her and an ultimatum that she will report his actions to school administrators.
In an email to Sliwinski at 8:57 a.m. May 2, the teacher writes: “(On) several occasions you have made inappropriate comments on how tight or low cut my clothing is. In addition, you have physically touched me inappropriately…When these things happen I don’t always respond immediately because I am caught off guard and very uncomfortable.”
The email continues: “You have been behaving inappropriately for a few years towards me now. Your behavior makes my work environment very uncomfortable…My next step if it were to continue in any way will be to report it to administration.”
According to an email sent by Sliwinski to the teacher at 9:18 a.m. on May 2, Sliwinski appears to acknowledge the harassment:
“I understand and am sorry. I am having some major difficulties with decision making right now and am seeking help. I have a counseling session tonight, I am stepping down from several of my duties including township trustee, hoa board and several other things. I am committing myself to be the best person I can be as a husband, father and teacher. Those are my priorities, I am cutting out all the things that have distracted me from that, the attention seeking behaviors and anything that was inappropriate. I apologize and know that was not right.”
In a second email at 9:33 a.m., Sliwinski writes:
“I know apologizing will not be enough, I can’t go back and change that behavior. I am sorry…Please hold me accountable if I ever do anything that makes you uncomfortable. I am serious, my first session is tonight. I am not well mentally and am taking the steps.”
A letter submitted with the documents to the township also says that Sliwinski made inappropriate comments to the teacher in the presence of another educator. That educator urged the teacher to come forward and report Sliwinski’s actions.
The unsigned letter also alleges that Sliwinski was escorted out of the high school on May 2. The Lake Orion Review has confirmed through multiple sources that spoke on the condition of anonymity that Sliwinski was removed from the building.
Orion Township’s position
After receiving the documents, Barnett said, the township board met that day and consulted with their attorney before the Nov. 6 board meeting, which Sliwinski attended.
“We immediately contacted our township attorney so that we could respond appropriately and swiftly. We issued a statement to our staff, reminding our staff that we have a sexual harassment policy. If anyone has felt intimidated or harassed by Mr. Sliwinski, or anyone (in the township), then they could come forward to our human resources department, to our township attorney or myself, either on the record or anonymously and report those claims because we promote a safe workplace environment,” he said.
Barnett said the township is limited in any action it can take against an elected official unless that official has been convicted of a crime.
“To address specifically the claims in the letter, a township board, or any elected body can’t compel or force someone to resign or quit. There are a few mechanisms that that can happen if that’s the course this goes,” he said.
“One would be that the person could voluntarily resign from a position. It is a potential that we could refer this to the (state) Attorney General’s office and they could weigh in. The governor has the power to remove an elected official in the state of Michigan from office. And then, finally, a recall election.
“Those are the avenues that someone could be removed from an elected position,” Barnett said.
“It’s our understanding that law enforcement is involved at this point, so I can’t really comment further. All I can say is that we take the allegations very seriously. Our board has discussed it and we will discuss it again in the future,” Barnett said.