Motion to dismiss denied in teacher pay case

Published 12:24 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By JOYANNA LOVE | Managing Editor

A motion to dismiss the case in which Chilton County Schools employees Christie Payne and Shellie Smith are suing Jason Griffin in his official capacity as Chilton County Schools Superintendent has been denied.

Judge Sibley Reynolds denied the motion to dismiss, which was filed on the grounds of sovereign immunity of the position of superintendent, in circuit court on Oct. 4.

Payne, a Verbena High School lunchroom manager, and Smith, a LeCroy Career Technical Center nursing instructor, filed suit after each received a letter stating that they had been paid for years of service when moving to their new position, rather than starting at year one of the new position.

According to court documents, Payne was told she owes $23,465.40 stemming from a position change in 2016, and Smith was told she owes $32,948 stemming from a position change in 2018.

In opposition to the motion to dismiss, Candis A. McGowan of Wiggins, Childs, Pantazis, Fisher and Goldfarb and attorneys with the Alabama Education Association, representing Payne and Smith, argued that Griffin had offered “no legal support, and no rational argument, for the idea that immunity bars a suit against an official capacity defendant to stop that defendant from trying to wrongly take the Plaintiffs’ money away from them.”

The opposition also stated it is not in the Superintendent’s authority to require repayment of wages.

The opposition also states that the overpayment issue was not given the due process of a hearing with the Board of Education before the letters were sent.

The response to this opposition by CCS attorney Dianne Gamble of Hill, Hill, Franco, Cole & Black, representing Griffin, states “The plaintiffs have failed to set forth any facts that show Griffin acted beyond his authority, under a misinterpretation of law, fraudulently, or in bad faith,” citing a school board policy and state law calling for repayment of overpaid wages.

The response also states that the plaintiffs have not proven how this incident qualifies as an exception to the sovereign immunity given to the position of school superintendent.

During a press conference on May 20, AEA Associate Executive Director Theron Stokes said the

Chilton County Board of Education was not included in the lawsuit because there was no record of the board approving the letters being sent.