Jury’s in: County loses $500,000 discrimination lawsuit

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Former Marshall County school teacher and administrator Dr. Patsey Thomas filed a discrimination suit against the Marshall County Board of Education March 2014, and received a jury verdict and cash awards totaling $518,500 Monday.

Thomas is an African-American who served Marshall County schools in various jobs between July 1989 and August 2012.

The lawsuit states that it was “an action for declaratory and equitable relief and damages for employment discrimination, retaliation, harassment, hostile work environment, and other violations brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The suit goes on to state that “Defendants (Marshall County Board of Education and Marshall County Schools) committed violations of Title VII against Dr. Thomas. The individual violations against Dr. Thomas were within a systemic pattern and practice of discrimination against her and similarly-situated black administrators of Defendants Central Office that worked in the MCS Central Office during the administration of its first black Director of Schools Roy Dukes. Similarly situated black employees include, but are not necessarily limited to, Michelle Ashley and Sheila Cook-Jones. Defendants acted with intent, malice, and reckless disregard to Plaintiff’s rights and others similarly-situated to her.”

Marshall County School Director Jacob Sorrells said that two other suits are pending with the school system.

“I felt like my dignity had been robbed by what happened,” Thomas said. “This verdict makes me believe that, in the end, truth and fairness will prevail.”

In the more than two decades Thomas worked for the school system, she was employed first as a physical education teacher. She worked in that position until 1996 when she was promoted to an administrator-level position as an assistant principal at Marshall County High School. She remained there until 2000 when she was promoted to principal at Marshall Elementary. Next, she went to Oak Grove Elementary to serve as principal. In 2008, she was given the position of coordinator of School Health, and two years later promoted to the position of Attendance and Testing Supervisor. Thomas was demoted to a physical education teacher in June 2012 following her filing suit against the school board for discrimination in 2010.

“The jury saw exactly what was going on here, and it wasn’t right,” Thomas’ attorney Kathryn Barnett with Morgan and Morgan said. “They said some terrible things about Dr. Thomas. “We were so thankful that they saw the evidence and they listened to the truth. They stood up for Dr. Thomas. I’m so glad the jury said ‘we’re not going to tolerate this kind of conduct’.” Thomas was also represented by attorneys Jason Gichner and Brian Winfrey.

Thomas was awarded $18,500 in back pay and lost wages. She was awarded $500,000 for compensatory damages, such as emotional pain and suffering.

“The vast majority of the judgment will be paid through the insurance we have with Tennessee Risk Management Trust,” Sorrells said. “A small portion will be from the 2016-17 Marshall County Schools budget.

When asked if the judgment would impact other funding for education in the county, or raise property taxes in the future, Sorrells said, “no.”