COLUMBIA, TN — Maury County’s school system settled a racial discrimination and retaliation lawsuit Wednesday with an elementary school counsellor it fired in December 2015.
“I’m alright,” Patricia Hawkins said after a two and a half day federal court trial was cut short with the announcement by her attorney, John J. Griffin Jr., to U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Holmes.
No written order has been issued in the case and there’s no indication that the county has acknowledged any wrongdoing.
No dollar amount was stated for the settlement reached with Leitner, Williams Dooley & Napolitan, a firm retained by Maury County Public Schools’ insurance company.
However, more than $208,500 was counted in open court as lost pay. Hopkins also sought payment for having to go through the ordeal. And, she wanted to return to work. It would appear that legal fees for Hawkins’ lawyers with Kay Griffin Attorneys at Law will be paid by the defense, according to a statement made to Judge Holmes. No statement was made with regard to employment benefits. Elsewhere, those are seen by county budget offices as reaching 25 percent of salary.
Defense attorney Anthony M. Noel was cross examining Hawkins late Wednesday morning when she requested a break. During that time, Schools Director Chris Marczak entered the court room and huddled with the defense team which included Amanda Alexander, the school system’s chief of staff who’s served as human resources director.
During jury selection Monday morning, the issue of motivating factors for Hawkins’ dismissal was reviewed by Griffin. If race is seen as a motivating factor, however minor, then jurors were told they must issue a verdict for Hawkins.
Marczak started his job as director in the fall of 2015. Hawkins wrote to him about the lack of minority teachers in the system and other concerns regarding race. Marczak requested background on Hawkins and Alexander replied race was a reason Hawkins was transferred from one school to another.
Former Schools Director Eddie Hickman testified that race was one component of his decision to transfer Hawkins against her will a few years before Marczak recommended the school board uphold his decision to fire Hawkins, but that his chief reason was the efficient operation of schools.
Hawkins complained in federal court about the transfer. The school system requested dismissal of that case, but Judge William Joseph Haynes Jr., now retired, denied the motion, ruling there was reason to let the case go to trial because race was a motivating factor for the transfer. Hickman said so in depositions. The complaint about Hawkins’ transfer was merged with her lawsuit over her dismissal.
A jury of five women and one man was seated for the trial. One of the female jurors is an African American. During jury selection, only one of the jurors, a white woman, was found to have a college education. There was one alternate juror, a white woman.
Attorneys in both law firms have 30 days to write a settlement order for Judge Holmes to sign. She said she’d be liberal about allowing more time if it’s needed.