A former Williamson County Schools (WCS) teacher and representatives from the school district will be in court on November 2.
Melanie Lemon, who resigned at the end of May after seven years teaching second grade at Walnut Grove Elementary, filed a lawsuit in Williamson County Circuit Civil Court in June against WCS Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney, Walnut Grove Principal Kate Donnelly and Assistant Superintendent Denise Goodwin, along with the district itself.
“Melanie Lemon was bullied, stalked, intimidated and defamed into a forced resignation,” Lemon’s lawsuit states. “Her livelihood, career and passion were stripped away from her in a painful, humiliating and illegal manner.”
WCS and the defendants responded with a strong refutation of the allegations.
The charges were: 1. Wrongful Termination 2. Breach of Contract 3. Negligence of County Employees 4. Defamation 5. Invasion of Privacy 6. Invasion of Civil Rights 7. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress 8. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.
After considering the motion to dismiss, Judge Joseph Woodruff dismissed charges 1, 3, 6 and 8 on October 12, citing either lack of supporting evidence or misapplication of applicable law.
The other charges – breach of contract, defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress – are still on the table to be tried if the matter goes to trial.
As of October 19, Constance Mann, Lemon’s attorney, filed an appeal to the dismissals and provided “newly discovered” evidence meant to support the claims of wrongful termination, negligence of county employee, invasion of civil rights, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. WCS has not yet filed a response that could refute this claimed new evidence, presented in part below. After contacting WCS, no comment was given on this ongoing legal matter. Lemon, also, did not comment.
On November 2, the court will hear argument on the appeal, and then decide on whether or not the new evidence is enough to reverse the dismissals. The evidence will also be used to argue in support of the not-dismissed allegations later if the matter goes to trial.
Newly Claimed Evidence
Lemon and her attorney claim that new evidence will prove she was given intentionally low evaluation scores in an ongoing campaign to force her to resign. To be clear, WCS and the defendants have not yet responded to this new evidence.
The initial complaint by Lemon submitted into evidence includes her 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 each January and teachers are scored in 10 different teaching criteria.
For 2016, Lemon received mostly 4s and two 3s. In 2015, Lemon received three 5s and seven 4s. In her seven years at Williamson County Schools, this was typical for her.
In her 2017 evaluation, “falsely and for the sole purpose of bullying and harassing Ms. Lemon,” Lemon’s suit stated, the district gave her a TEAM score of 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.
In response to Lemon’s first complaint and the evaluation scores, the WCS brief denied “that the purpose of these scores was bullying and harassment. These scores were reflective of [Lemon’s] performance” and “an accurate assessment.”
Newly submitted evidence claims to show that four low evaluation scores given to Lemon were raised after she announced her intention to resign on May 13.
Mann outlines the following in Lemon’s appeal:
January 19, 2017 Scores:
Motivating Students: 2
Presenting Instructional Content: 2
Activities and Material: 2
Scores Changed on May 23, 2017
Motivating Students: 4
Presenting Instructional Content: 3
Activities and Material: 3
“Multiple teachers will testify that seven scores of 2 places a teacher on notice that she is being targeted for termination,” the appeal states. Changing the scores after Lemon’s resignation, Mann argues, is a way of covering up that Lemon was a target.
WCS has not responded yet to this charge.
Also in support of the wrongful termination, dismissed negligence and invasion charges, Mann claims that a letter was added to the record after Lemon resigned.
The letter, which addressed Lemon informing her of her faults, “was never provided.”
Again, WCS has not yet responded to this new material submitted by Lemon.
Mann also writes that Donnelly and Goodwin, as part of an effort at “systemic termination” began in the spring of 2017: “timing [Lemon] when she was 3 minutes, 52 seconds late, timing her arrival for 30 days, when there was no history of a tardy issue, stating she was insubordinate when using the door by her classroom, when other teachers routinely used the door, and claiming ‘ready to roll’ on written discipline (never given), and writing she ‘needs to either get in line or get on another bus.’ Thereafter, they started to follow Ms. Lemon around documenting her every move.”
After a complaint from a parent about an incident with a student, Lemon was put under monitoring in her classroom. In their response to the initial lawsuit, the defendants argued such actions were part of normal supervision of a teacher.