The Jefferson City School District has recently resolved a few lawsuits, but other cases are ongoing.
Legal expenses, such as payments to attorneys providing legal guidance, are paid out of the general fund, according to information provided by the district. During the last 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, which fell again to $89,000 in 2022.
Such expenses are variable, so the district "plans carefully to ensure that the budget can absorb any fluctuations," said Chief Financial Officer Shari LePage.
The district hasn't seen any particular uptick in those legal expenses, LePage said.
"We aren't aware of any particular trend with respect to legal costs, which are inherently variable from year to year. We believe the district's legal expenses are comparable to other public school districts of roughly the same size," she said.
There are also additional costs associated with the actual settlement or resolution of lawsuits.
"In general, the district's liability insurance pays at least a portion of any settlement," LePage said. "However, whether and how much of a settlement is paid by insurance depends on a variety of factors, including the date of loss (when the events leading to the claim occurred), the insurance provider and the specific insurance policy, the type of claim, or even the specific arrangement mutually agreed upon for a particular case."
The Jefferson City School District had worked with Winter-Dent and Company as its liability insurance provider until fiscal year 2020, when it switched to the Missouri United School Insurance Council, or MUSIC. Such companies also provide resources, such as training for teachers on various topics.
The News Tribune has reported on lawsuits involving the district and has assembled a list of active and recently resolved cases involving the district.
Math teacher Naveed Malik filed a lawsuit in 2019 alleging discrimination on race, national origin, color and age, and retaliation and a hostile work environment, according to previous News Tribune reporting. Malik said he was passed over for a higher teaching position that went to someone with less experience and excluded from meetings and activities in which other teachers were included. The district has denied Malik's allegations. That case is ongoing.
Former physical therapist's assistant Denise Rackers sued the district in 2019, claiming she had 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 taking leave. The district said in a statement at the time that it intended to "aggressively defend" its side during the legal process. That case is ongoing.
Sherri Thomas, a former principal of Lewis and Clark Middle School, sued the district in 2019 for discrimination based on retaliation, sex, and age, along with a hostile work environment, according to previous News Tribune reporting. She claimed her concerns were often shot down or ignored by those she reported to and she chose to retire after she said questions about whether her contract would be renewed were ignored. The district denied Thomas' allegations. That case is ongoing.
Local resident Curtis Thompson filed a lawsuit against the district in 2022, alleging violations of the Sunshine Law and open meetings law. Thompson, who has been a vocal critic of Critical Race Theory at board meetings, has sent numerous Sunshine requests to the district about its curriculum, which he said the district has failed to adequately answer. The district contends it has answered all of his requests. That case is ongoing.
Ashley Woods, a former human resources manager, sued the district in June for gender discrimination and retaliation, according to previous News Tribune reporting. Woods said other women in her department and related offices excluded, harassed, ignored and undermined her, treatment she said worsened when she took maternity leave and took time for pregnancy complications or caring for a child. Woods said she took the complaints to those in authority, but nothing was done. The district said it intends to defend against her claims, and the case is ongoing.
A middle school wrestler's mother, Roxanna Meudt-Antele, filed a lawsuit in 2019 against the district and Alexander Whelan, a former wrestling coach at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, alleging Whelan had forcibly cut her son's hair before a match. Whelan resigned before the end of his first semester. JCPS condemned Whelan's actions in a statement, saying the district took action as soon as it had investigated. In March, Cole County Judge Cotton Walker ruled the district was protected from the charges by sovereign immunity, an exemption of a governing body from certain types of lawsuits and prosecution. That case has been appealed.
Recently resolved cases
Former instructional technology coordinator Tammy Ferry sued the district in 2017, alleging retaliation, sex discrimination and a hostile work environment, according to previous News Tribune reporting. In a separate lawsuit, Ferry also sued the district for her 2019 firing after the district alleged she had violated student privacy by copying files onto her personal google account for use in her other lawsuit. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of the district that Ferry's firing was justified, contradicting two prior rulings in lower courts, and denied her motion for rehearing in April. And in August, Ferry and the district agreed to a settlement in her other case -- a case alleging sex discrimination. The district said it paid $162,500 to Ferry and resolved a counterclaim with Traveler's Insurance Group for $50,000, 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 for eminent domain in 2019 after receiving no response to inquiries about a property it needed to complete its athletic facility. The property, which had been destroyed by the tornado and unused for almost a year, was ordered to be condemned in 2021.
In 2021, a former food service manager filed a lawsuit against the district, according to previous News Tribune reporting. Tammy Weddington said she took medical leave for dental surgery, but other employees called her almost daily for instructions on running the food services department. When Weddington had the surgery, she could not speak during recovery, and she alleged she was fired because those employees said she did not communicate with them. Weddington was seeking damages and reinstatement to her position or compensation from 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 2022 lawsuit over its mask mandate from Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who has sued numerous schools contending that mask mandates are unconstitutional and unlawful. The district stood behind its mask mandate, which has since been dropped. That lawsuit was later dismissed.