(CN) - A South Carolina teacher claims in court that she was unfairly forced to resign after a student circulated nude photos that had been taken from her cellphone without her knowledge.
In a complaint filed Friday in Union County, S.C., science teacher Leigh Ann Arthur says Union County School District and its superintendant humiliated her by publicly stating she was "unfit for her profession, had broken the law, and was unchaste."
Arthur, who seeks unspecified damages for loss of income, mental suffering and emotional distress, alleges in the complaint that on Feb. 19 she briefly stepped outside her classroom for to monitor the hallway and left her cellphone on her desk.
A student "without Arthur's knowledge or permission, accessed her phone, scrolled her photo application, opened her photo application ... and found four provocative pictures of her," the complaint states.
Arthur said she had taken the nude selfies earlier in the week "for her husband for Valentine's Day."
The student snapped his own image of the photographs, then distributed the pictures via social media and texts, the complaint continues.
Arthur says when she learned the photos were being circulated online, she informed the defendants and discussed "the steps to address the actions of the student or students."
Several days later, the complaint says, the defendants insisted Arthur be removed from class while she was teaching. A uniformed police officer escorted the teacher out of the school.
The defendants then informed Arthur if she did not resign, the school board could find her "culpable of a violation" and she would lose her teaching certificate and no longer be eligible to teach in South Carolina. the complaint says.
The Union Public Safety Department has since charged the 16-year-old student responsible for distributing the nude photos with one count of violating the state's computer crime act and one count of aggravated voyeurism.
In a statement released March 4, shortly after Arthur resigned, Union County School District's interim superintendent David Eubanks blamed the teacher for the incident.
"It is truly unfortunate that a teacher charged with proper supervision and care of students failed to fulfill that responsibility in her classroom," the statement said, adding that [Arthur] "allowed students to use her personal cellphone on a regular and routine basis" and that her phone was "routinely left on her desk for student use and was never locked."
The statement went on to say Arthur "used the media to transmit false information obviously intended for the purpose of deflecting the incident totally to students."
Arthur is represented by Greenville, S.C. attorney Jack Read who told Courthouse News "we are very confident of our position regarding [Arthur's] right to keep her phone on her desk and that it not to be tampered with."
Arthur was a victim, Read said, whose private photographs were stolen and the defendants are wrong to "blame the victim."
Employed by the school district since 2003, Arthur worked most recently at the Career and Technology Center at Union High School, where she taught engineering and computer programming.
The complaint states that Arthur "spent thousands of dollars of her own money on [classroom] materials," and "secured donations of equipment worth thousands of dollars from businesses." An online petition launched by her students and urging school district officials to give Arthur her job back has more than 17,000 signatures.
Union County School District did not respond to request for comment from Courthouse News.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.