Accused bus driver answers claims against her

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Marcia Nelesen
Thursday, February 13, 2014

JANESVILLE--The Janesville bus driver accused of telling a teenager to go the back of her bus and then ejecting him because he is black has denied the charges against her in U.S. District Court in Madison.

The boy's mother, Shytivia Turner-Muhammad, 843 E. Milwaukee St., is named as bringing the suit. A pretrial conference is scheduled March 3.

The lawsuit identifies the boy as D.T. and as being African-American.

The mother's attorney, Amy Scarr, was initially negotiating with city of Janesville officials, demanding $500,000 in compensation.

But Scarr filed the suit in federal court in January, naming only bus driver Mary Lesko as the defendant. The suit claims Lesko deprived the youth of his 14th Amendment rights based either on race or sex.

Lesko said in her answer to the complaint that she told D.T. to go to the back of the bus because he was sitting in a disabled area when someone who needed a seat boarded the bus. She said she ejected the boy shortly after because he said, “F--- you.”

“If plaintiff sustained any of the injuries or damages alleged in the complaint, such injuries and damages were caused in whole or in part, or were contributed to, by plaintiff's own culpable conduct and intentional acts,” according to Lesko's statement filed in court.

The defense also claims Lesko is protected under laws that give government workers immunity for any actions while doing their jobs.

This is the first time Lesko has commented on the claims against her.

A video of the Nov. 7 incident was released by city administration in December. By that time, Lesko was using paid time off until her retirement date of Jan. 1, 2014.

The video shows Lesko asking two young riders to give up their seats when a person she says she knew to be elderly and/or disabled got on the bus. The video also shows three other riders remaining in their seats in the priority area.

The young female gets up and moves while D.T. does not immediately get up. Lesko then orders D.T. to leave the priority seating area and go to the back of the bus.

Lesko, 1334 Sharon St., Janesville, said in the suit that this is when D.T. swore at her, and she ejected him from the bus.

According to bus policy, a driver can ask an individual to move if an elderly or handicapped person needs a seat in the priority area.

Lesko said she knew three of the five passengers in the priority seating area were elderly or disabled. Lesko denies she acted with discriminatory intent but rather ejected the teen because he used the vulgarity. She also denied the ejection violated bus policy.

Lesko said her actions were based on legitimate and nondiscriminatory reasons and not because of race.

Lesko is asking that the complaint be dismissed and that she be awarded her attorneys' fees.

The teen's family is asking for compensatory and punitive damages and attorney fees to be determined at trial.

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