In 2013, shop teacher Brian Vukadinovich filed suit against the school board in Hanover Township, Indiana, claiming they’d fired him unfairly. His lawsuit sought damages for age discrimination, retaliation for a previous lawsuit, and violation of his rights in the termination process. Early this month, a federal jury rendered a verdict in his favor. He had no one to thank but himself.
That’s right, Brian Vukadinovich represented himself, from the moment he filed that multi-count complaint to the moment the jury’s verdict came down on March 10th. After a weeklong trial, the jury awarded him $203,840 in damages on his due-process claim.
Brian was hired at Hanover Central High School in 2004 as an industrial arts (shop) teacher. His position was eliminated in 2012, when he was 60 years old. That decision came at the end of several tense months of dispute with school administrators over whether his classes met state standards.
After he showed up at a school board meeting and threatened to sue each and every member of the board, several attorneys offered to represent him. Brian turned them all down. He chose to represent himself in the case because he’d been studying the law for 30 years and had more experience in court than many lawyers.
He also had little faith in members of the bar. Early in his teaching career, Brian had filed a grievance against school administrators that ended up in arbitration. When the school’s lawyer double-crossed him — an essential experience for any self-trained litigant — he decided to do better next time. He read a dictionary of legal terms and other legal texts. He learned legal research during a short stint working for a law firm. He attended trials to learn oral argument and advocacy. Much later, he sued another school board and settled the case on favorable terms.
Brian Vukadinovich has sued aplenty and lost aplenty, including:
- an employment discrimination suit when he was passed over for a younger, less experienced candidate,
- a suit against another school board in Indiana that terminated his teaching contract,
- suits for defamation and failure to provide medical care after a DUI arrest,
- a suit for false arrest and excessive force in a different incident,
- a suit over the costs of collecting attorney’s fees for a lawsuit deemed frivolous.
Brian has been fired from almost every teaching job he’s ever held and has sued many of his employers, sometimes without good cause. This time, he went to court with several powerful claims.
In this latest case, both sides had tried to avoid trial with opposing summary judgment motions. The judge denied both motions in September and set the case for trial, but there were so many pre-trial filings that the case was continued until March. Some of Brian’s claims were struck during this process, but he’d gathered enough evidence in discovery to put his primary claims in front of a jury.
“I am very grateful that the court had an opportunity to review the evidence and determined that there was sufficient evidence to proceed to trial on my discrimination claims and federal due process claims. I very much look forward to now presenting my evidence to a jury,” Brian said last year.
This month, he presented his case in the Indiana Northern District Court before Judge Philip P. Simon — and a jury of his peers — and he won!
Despite the challenges, Brian feels more people should consider representing themselves in court. “I think that most people, if they would just think about what happened, I think they can go to trial and win these cases,” he said. “Just speak from the heart and speak the truth.”
That’s easy to say with 30 years’ experience and a sweet victory under his belt, but he’s right. With a little organization, good practice on legal research and writing, and a healthy dose of moral support, most people can represent themselves skillfully.
I’m glad to hear about Brian’s win. With all the bad news on pro se litigants, we have to celebrate our heroes whenever we can. All of us here at Burlington Avenue offer a hearty congratulations to Brian Vukadinovich on his victory.
Share your thoughts on Brian’s success in the comments below.