Schools, worker settle claim

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Lewisburg man has won a monetary settlement after the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission mediated his complaint against the Board of Education.

Carl Lee, 62, of Austin Road, received a form letter from then-director of schools Stan Curtis last June, stating that his contract would not be renewed. Lee had worked for the schools' maintenance department since May 2003.

"I didn't please somebody," Lee told the Tribune in a telephone interview. Another maintenance worker, Darrell Bishop, also got a non-renewal letter, but was re-hired a few weeks later, according to Lee.

Lee said he could not think of any reason he was not re-hired except his age, and eventually filed a complaint with the EEOC, alleging age discrimination.

"I was hurt by it," Lee said. "I was shocked. I prided myself in doing a good job. At my age I've always been able to carry my load - I did everything everybody else did."

Lee signed a confidentiality agreement, so he cannot reveal the amount of his settlement, but he said, "I can't say I'm happy, but it's probably worked itself out. It proved I was not at fault for being fired."

Lee's personnel file contains his annual evaluations, and all of them rate him "good" or "satisfactory" over all. The latest one (2008) marks him "above average" in eight evaluation categories and "average" in the ninth.

The file also contains Lee's resume, which is impressive. He graduated from Marshall County High School in 1965, and went to work at Inter City Products in 1972, staying until the plant closed in 2002. At ICP Lee was an automatic press operator, team leader, and member of the safety board. He also spent five years in cost accounting and time keeping at ICP. Lee's resume lists the many skills he has: working with concrete; doing interior and exterior carpentry and painting, installing roofing, siding and sheetrock; laying tile and carpet; installing and repairing plumbing and electricity. It also states he can do general mechanical repairs and knows how to use all kinds of hand tools, as well as operating many kinds of machinery, from a pressure washer to a dump truck.

He seemed over-qualified to be just one of 10 or 11 school maintenance workers, but Lee threw himself into the job, first under Hershel Davis, now a Lewisburg city councilman, and later under Hershel's son Sheldon, the present maintenance supervisor.

"I tried to push a little harder and do a little bit better job" to show that he was as able to do the job as the younger men, Lee said.

At their March meeting, the school board went into executive (private) session for 15 minutes with their lawyer, Sam Jackson. When they returned to the open meeting, the board unanimously approved the settlement of Lee's complaint as agreed at a mediation session in Nashville.

In a separate piece of business, the school board approved a letter engaging the law firm of which Jackson is a member - Lewis, King, Kreig and Waldrop P.C - to represent them, as needed, for the next year. The letter includes prices: $165/hour for a junior attorney, $185/hour for a senior one, and $90/hour for a legal assistant.