The Jefferson City School District recently settled some lawsuits, but other cases are ongoing.
Legal expenses, such as payments to attorneys who provide legal advice, are paid from the general fund, according to the district. Over the past five fiscal years, those numbers have ranged from a low of about $47,500 in 2018 to a high of about $140,000 in 2020, before falling again to $89,000 in 2022.
Such expenses are variable, so “the district plans carefully to ensure the budget can accommodate fluctuations,” said Chief Financial Officer Shari LePage.
The district hasn’t seen any particular increase in these legal costs, LePage said.
“We are not aware of any particular trend in terms of legal costs, which naturally vary from year to year. We believe the district’s legal costs are comparable to other public school districts of roughly the same size,” she said.
There are also additional costs associated with actually settling or resolving litigation.
“Generally, district liability insurance pays at least a portion of any severance pay,” LePage said. “However, whether and how much of an insurance benefit is paid depends on a variety of factors, including the date of the damage (when the events giving rise to the damage occurred), the insurance provider and the specific insurance policy, the type of damage, or even the particular arrangement mutually agreed upon for a particular case.”
The Jefferson City School District had worked with Winter-Dent and Company as its liability insurer until fiscal 2020, when it switched to the Missouri United School Insurance Council, or MUSIC. Such companies also offer resources such as B. Training courses for teachers on various topics.
The News Tribune has reported lawsuits involving the district and compiled a list of active and recently resolved cases involving the district.
Math teacher Naveed Malik filed a lawsuit in 2019 alleging discrimination based on race, national origin, color and age, as well as retaliation and a hostile work environment, according to previous reports from the News Tribune. Malik said he was passed over for a senior teaching position going to someone with less experience and was barred from meetings and activities involving other teachers. The district has denied Malik’s allegations. This case is not yet closed.
Former physical therapist assistant Denise Rackers sued the county in 2019, alleging she resigned after discrimination and retaliation because of her disability, a neurological disorder. Rackers said her supervisor told others about her diagnosis without permission and made fun of her for saying goodbye. The district said in a statement at the time it intended to “aggressively defend” its side during the trial. This case is not yet closed.
Sherri Thomas, a former principal at Lewis and Clark Middle School, sued the district in 2019 for discrimination based on retaliation, gender and age, and a hostile work environment, according to previous News Tribune reports. She claimed her concerns were often crushed or ignored by those she reported to, and she decided to retire after saying questions about whether her contract would be renewed were ignored. The district dismissed Thomas’ allegations. This case is not yet closed.
Local resident Curtis Thompson filed a lawsuit against the district in 2022 alleging violations of the Sunshine Act and the Open Gatherings Act. Thompson, who has been a vocal critic of Critical Race Theory at board meetings, has sent the district numerous Sunshine inquiries about its curriculum that he feels the district has not adequately responded to. The district claims it has responded to all of its inquiries. This case is not yet closed.
Ashley Woods, a former human resources manager, sued the district in June for gender discrimination and retaliation, according to previous News Tribune reports. Woods said other women in her department and related offices excluded, harassed, ignored and undermined her, and that treatment deteriorated when she took maternity leave and made time away from pregnancy complications or caring for a child. Woods said she took the complaints to those responsible, but nothing was done. The district said it intends to defend itself against her claims and the case is ongoing.
The mother of a middle school wrestler, Roxanna Meudt-Antele, filed a lawsuit in 2019 against the district and Alexander Whelan, a former wrestling coach at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, alleging that Whelan forcibly cut her son’s hair before a match . Whelan retired before the end of his freshman semester. JCPS condemned Whelan’s actions in a statement, saying the district took action immediately upon investigation. In March, Cole County Judge Cotton Walker ruled that the district was protected from the charges by sovereign immunity, an exemption for a governing body from certain types of claims and prosecutions. This case has been appealed.
Recently Solved Cases
Former Instructional Technology Coordinator Tammy Ferry sued the district in 2017 for alleged retaliation, gender discrimination and a hostile work environment, according to previous News Tribune reports. In a separate lawsuit, Ferry also sued the district over her 2019 dismissal after the district alleged that she violated student privacy by copying files to her personal Google account for use in her other lawsuit . The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of the district that Ferry’s dismissal was warranted, contradicting two previous lower court rulings and denying her request for a rehearing in April. And in August, Ferry and the district reached a settlement in their other case — a case alleging sex discrimination. The district said it paid Ferry $162,500 and settled a $50,000 counterclaim with Traveler’s Insurance Group in which the district was responsible for $27,500. The remaining $22,500 was paid through Continental Western Insurance Group.
JC Schools itself successfully sued a major domain in 2019 after receiving no response to requests for land it needed to complete its sports facility. Destroyed by the tornado and unused for almost a year, the property was demolished in 2021.
In 2021, a former food service executive filed a lawsuit against the district, according to previous News Tribune reports. Tammy Weddington said she was on sick leave for dental surgery, but other employees called her almost daily for instructions on how to run the grocery department. When Weddington underwent surgery, she was unable to speak during recovery, and she claimed she was fired because those staffers said she failed to communicate with them. Weddington sought damages and reinstatement to her position or compensation for lost wages. That case was settled in January and the District agreed to pay $95,000 to Weddington through TGH Litigation in Columbia, which received more than $37,500 of that amount.
The district also faced a lawsuit in 2022 over its mask mandate from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who has sued numerous schools that claim mask mandates are unconstitutional and unlawful. The county stood behind its now-dropped mask mandate. This lawsuit was later dismissed.