Port Arthur school district in court

Port Arthur school district in court

Attorneys for the Port Arthur Independent School District (PAISD) had a busy two weeks in court, defending separate litigations accusing the district of wrongful termination and retaliation.

In a case that was described by PAISD attorneys as “settled” on Oct. 23, the school district was defending allegations that it wrongfully terminated former special education teacher Edna Edwards in 2006.

PAISD has argued to the court that Edwards failed to exhaust her administrative remedies under the Texas Education Code, although multiple courts including the 172nd Jefferson County District Court concluded Edwards was not required to exhaust her administrative remedies before bringing her case to trial.

Edwards, who had been an educator for the district for more than 30 years, alleged that she was transferred and ultimately fired after she told a former PAISD teacher who testified in a separate breach of contract and retaliation lawsuit against PAISD that she was ordered by an assistant superintendent not to rehire the whistleblower. Edwards further alleged that she was replaced by a teacher who testified for PAISD in the prior lawsuit, and that prior to her termination, she was “repeatedly and publicly harassed and berated by members of the PAISD administration for her alleged failure to support the PAISD.”

After several years of fighting PAISD attorneys in varying courts, Edwards most recently answered PAISD’s assertions “that a court lacks jurisdiction to hear the merits of the (case.)” According to PAISD’s appeal to the court, Edwards was transferred into an employment contract just before she was terminated and therefore could not sue for wrongful termination regardless of the facts presented.

“PAISD points to a provision in Edwards’ 2006 contract which states, ‘Employee shall be subject to assignment and reassignment of positions or duties, additional duties, changes in responsibilities or work, transfers, or reclassification at any time during the contract term,”’ PAISD asserted.

However, the appellant court in February 2012 held that, “Edwards does not contend that her transfer violated the terms of her 2006 contract with PAISD. Rather, Edwards asserts that she was transferred in retaliation for her opposition to PAISD’s discriminatory practices and for helping a teacher in regards to pending litigation against PAISD.”

Therefore, the court ruled, PAISD would need to answer Edwards’ allegation in a formal setting. Edwards’ petition sought an injunction and all equitable relief available to her, and additional equitable relief that might include hiring or reinstating employment with or without back pay. Days before the case was set for a jury trial, an undisclosed settlement was announced.

Roughly a week later, PAISD attorneys would again argue whether a local court could hear claims of wrongful termination and retaliation lodged against the school district.

In the case of Monty Jones versus PAISD, the former computer technician said he was harassed and then fired for failing to follow orders in a scheme to damage computer equipment and collect insurance proceeds. Jones’ case made it to court in 2010 but, like Edwards, the alleged harassment had taken place long before litigation was called before a judge, with his last date of employment ending in the summer of 2009.

Jones’ case specifically names PAISD Superintendent Johnny Brown and computer technology supervisor Beverly Thornton as the actors responsible for harassment and retaliation alleged in the suit.

In a notarized statement to the court, superintendent Brown defended his position, saying, “I approved the recommendation to terminate Monty Jones in 2009 based on legitimate business reasons related to his misconduct.”

Jones’ attorney requested to hear Brown’s statement in person, but has not been able to do so. According to the case file, PAISD attorneys “have aided in making Dr. Johnny Brown unavailable as a witness.” Brown was served with a subpoena to appear at the next court date, but that date has not yet been set, according to 60th District Court coordinator Cathy Dollinger.