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Will judge award more money in school district case?

NATCHEZ — A federal judge is set today to hear arguments about whether he should grant nearly $500,000 in additional awards to a former principal who won a lawsuit against the Natchez-Adams School District earlier this year.

The hearing will be to determine if the NASD should have to pay Cindy Idom’s legal fees, lost wages and benefits, and interest on the damages awarded by the jury following her discrimination case against the district.

The court proceeding is scheduled for 10 a.m. in U.S. District Court Senior Judge David Bramlette III’s courtroom in Natchez.

The hearing will move the case closer to a final ruling, which school district officials have said has to be issued before it can be appealed or any other actions can be taken in response to it. Bramlette has indicated he would not issue a final ruling until the issue of legal fees was considered.

Idom’s case alleged her retirement at age 61 was forced due to a hostile work environment that included racial discrimination against her as a white person.

The jury award from the case was for $271,737 in back pay and damages from the school district, $75,000 from Superintendent Frederick Hill and $25,000 from Assistant Superintendent Tanisha Smith.

But Idom’s attorneys have also filed motions to ask for the district to pay her legal fees, which they have calculated at a total of $257,814.27 — $235,340 for 1,028 hours performed by three attorneys and a paralegal, plus costs incurred during the case.

They have also asked for front pay — or future lost wages — because reinstatement to her former position in the school district is not feasible. Idom is asking for $193,227 in front pay and $22,593 in retirement benefits, a calculation based on if she would have worked to retirement at 65.

In the filing seeking the additional funds, the attorneys have also cited state and federal laws that allow them to ask the judge to apply an 8-percent, annual interest rate to the judgment, with an effective date starting at Idom’s forced retirement.

If all of the requests are honored, the total payment will be $885,059.27.

Idom filed her case in May 2014, having resigned her then-post at Frazier Elementary School at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year.

During the trial, she said school district officials bullied her for racial reasons, held her to tougher standards than black principals and created a generally hostile work environment through aggressive management techniques.

Idom said her transfer to Frazier a month before her resignation — and after 11 years as principal at West Elementary School — was followed by a meeting with Hill and Smith in which she was removed as principal and told she could only have a position as a teacher, a human resources move she called “a degrading demotion.”

Idom alleges the demotion was predicated on low standardized test scores at West.

But the school had only taken the tests for the first time in 2013, and Idom was not given a chance to improve them before being transferred and then demoted, she contends. Her case also alleged the school was never adequately updated and staffed in light of the district-wide reorganization from grade-based to neighborhood-based schools in 2012.

Two other wrongful termination lawsuits against the school district are pending, though the plaintiffs in those cases — Shannon Doughty and Regina McCoy — did not allege race discrimination.

In those cases, both plaintiffs allege they faced demotion or resignation based on projections of school performance test scores that predicted the schools at which they were employed would fail. When the scores came out, however, the schools improved.

Doughty and McCoy now work in other school districts.

Their cases have been filed in Adams County Circuit Court, but have not yet been set for trial.

 

 

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