Bus garage case going to court

Friday, October 16, 2009

Allegations about improprieties at Marshall County's School Bus Garage have been taken to Circuit Court, according to the attorney for a mechanic who lost his job at the garage.

The Board of Education now faces a civil complaint by Randy Lowe, who worked for the school system's Transportation Department from 2000 until his contract was not renewed for the current school year.

Lowe wants his job back and he wants a jury to hear his case, according Lowe's complaint filed by his attorney, Phillip Davidson of Nashville. Compensatory damages, attorney fees and court costs are also sought.

Civil suit papers were delivered to the Circuit Court Clerk's office in the Marshall County Courthouse in the first half of this week, but the case hadn't been filed by noon Thursday because the filing fee hadn't been paid. The fee was paid at about 1:15 p.m. Thursday, after the news deadline for the Tribune's print edition.

"They have a rule that private checks are not accepted," Davidson said Thursday morning. "They want a bank check or a money order and Mr. Lowe has been instructed to do that. Whenever a check is taken over there, it will be filed."

Lowe has complained that he's suffered loss of income and benefits. The complaint states that his losses are suffered in the past and future. Lowe has suffered humiliation, embarrassment and great emotional distress, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit filed by Davidson isn't the first time he has sued the Marshall County Board of Education for a client.

Davidson represented "one of the principals for age discrimination," he said, naming John David Pierce as his client. Pierce preceded Stan Curtis as director of schools.

The case went to U.S. District Court in Nashville. Opening arguments were heard and the case was settled while Pierce was superintendent, Davidson said.

Lowe and former bus driver Larry Barlar filed ethics complaints with the County Commission's Ethics Committee, but the committee sent them to the School Board because they do not relate to misconduct by an elected official.

Lowe's suit makes many of the same allegations as the ethics complaints.

Lowe was allegedly terminated because he refused to remain silent about alleged illegal activities such as the theft of government property, and concealing criminal acts such as a county employee's driving under the influence and reckless endangerment, the complaint alleges.

"Theft of government property" refers to the alleged sale of school bus tires while they were, according to Davidson and Lowe, still useable, by the then-head of the transportation department, Glen Ezell.

"Criminal acts" refers to a bus driver who was allegedly allowed to drive a school bus while impaired. Later, the driver allegedly rear-ended a car, according to the civil complaint.

Upon returning to work, the driver allegedly told fellow employees that Ezell told him not to worry about the accident, and that some people were going to lose their jobs at contract time.

The driver, Billy Harwell, is a co-defendant, with the South Central Tennessee Development District, in a suit filed by a Lewisburg woman, who claims she was injured because of his careless driving of a SCTDD van.

Lowe has said he complained to Ezell about another school bus driver being allowed to drive after having been arrested for driving under the influence, and who sometimes drove while apparently under the influence of illegal narcotics.

Lowe took that complaint to now-former director of schools, Stan Curtis, but "no action was taken" and Curtis became "agitated at Lowe" for complaining, according to Lowe's civil suit as filed Thursday.

Senior Staff Writer Clint Confehr contributed to this story.