A former Williamson County Schools teacher filed a lawsuit Friday afternoon in Williamson County Circuit Court against her former bosses and school district.
Melanie Lemon, who resigned after seven years teaching third grade at Walnut Grove Elementary at the end of May, names superintendent Mike Looney, Walnut Grove principal Kate Donnelly and assistant superintendent Denise Goodwin, along with WCS, as defendants.
“Melanie Lemon was bullied, stalked, intimidated and defamed into a forced resignation,” the complaint states. “Her livelihood, career and passion were stripped away from her in a painful, humiliating and illegal manner.”
It alleges that, because of bullying, Lemon’s resignation was a wrongful termination. It also alleges that, given the way the defendants acted and treated her after an alleged incident with a student, her contract was breached. And, that Goodwin acted in a way that rose to the level of defamation, for stating publicly and falsely to people that Lemon has “anger issues” and “marital problems.”
It contends that the court should award Lemon with “compensatory damages” and “the hope is [the school district] will extend their anti-bullying policy to the adults.”
The defendants are being served with the complaint, notifying them that a lawsuit against them has been filed. They have 30 days to respond to the brief. Constance Mann represents Lemon.
The Williamson Source contacted the school district for comment in regards to the filing of the lawsuit, but did not hear back by publication. However, last week, WCS wrote in an e-mail: “If she [Melanie Lemon] and her attorney somehow try to litigate her resignation, we will aggressively defend Williamson County Schools.”
Evidence and Allegations
Among other claims, Mann argues that the defendants purposely gave her very poor evaluation scores for her performance as a teacher in the past year.
“Directly prior to the decision to bully her into resignation, her excellence is documented,” Mann wrote.
She submitted into evidence Lemon’s TEAM General Educator Observation Forms, which rate teachers on an ascending scale of proficiency from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. They are given to teachers in January. There are scores for 10 teaching criteria.
For 2016, Lemon received mostly 4s and two 3s, out of 10 scores. In 2015, Lemon received three 5s and seven 4s. In her seven years at Williamson County Schools, this was typical for her.
The suit alleges that sometime early in the 2016-17 school year, a decision was made to force Lemon to resign.
In her 2017 evaluation, “falsely and for the sole purpose of bullying and harassing Ms. Lemon,” the district gave her a TEAM score with seven 2s, some 3s, and no 4s or 5s. Lemon had never previously received more than one 2 on an evaluation in her 15-year career as a teacher.
The brief further alleges that Lemon was accused of child abuse after an incident in March, which we wrote about on Thursday, despite the defendants knowing that “the allegations [were] extremely suspect [given the history of complaints by the parent who made them], the timing and the event described.”
Mann wrote that “there was no child abuse;” “law enforcement declined to initiate an investigation;” and that the school’s investigation was “incomplete, improper and without merit.”
Lemon was suspended in April for three days. Upon her return to her class, the complaint states, “an observer was placed in her classroom for the purpose of stalking her, bullying her, and forcing her to resign without a hearing.”
Tenured teachers are entitled to a full hearing in front of a neutral person or persons, when there is a complaint or accusation. Cameras were also placed in her classroom.
“The school monitored her on the camera, noted her every move, and otherwise treated her as a prisoner,” Mann wrote.
Lemon appealed the suspension upon her return to have it taken off her record but, as Mann wrote, “time frames were not followed according to school policy nor was she provided required documentation and said failures were for the purpose of bullying her to quit.”
Allegedly, when fellow teachers came to Lemon’s defense, they too were bullied.
“Her co-workers and other teachers were threatened if they protested in any way,” Mann wrote.
Principal Donnelly, the complaint alleges, told them to “remember who signs your paychecks.”
As of the posting of this article, Williamson County Schools had not responded to questions regarding the allegations against Donnelly or questions regarding co-workers and peers being “threatened” if they spoke out in favor of Lemon. All inquiries regarding current WCS staff go through the main WCS Communications Office.
In regards to Lemon WCS wrote in an e-mail last week: “On May 2, Dr. Looney communicated his concerns to Mrs. Lemon that she was leaving her students unattended in the classroom as well as spending too much time on the computer. On May 12, Mrs. Lemon resigned effective May 24. We understand she has now hired an attorney.”