Eddie Powell, the assistant principal who was in charge of the Muscogee County School District’s program for students with severe discipline violations the day a 13-year-old boy allegedly was body-slammed by a contracted behavior specialist, has sued the Muscogee County School District in federal court after he was reassigned.
Powell alleges racial discrimination, retaliation for having complained about racial discrimination and a violation of the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act.
Powell filed a complaint in late May with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in early June received a response that his allegations were not supported and that he would have to file a lawsuit if he wanted to pursue his claims against the district.
Montravious Thomas was an MCSD student when contracted behavior specialist Bryant Mosley allegedly body-slammed him “no less than” five times on Sept. 12, 2016, in the alternative education program called AIM (Achievement, Integrity, Maturity) at the Edgewood Student Services Center. Staff failed to get him medical treatment and sent him home on a bus, according to the $25 million lawsuit filed on Montravious’ behalf. His right leg was amputated below the knee Oct. 18.
During a public forum about the controversy this summer, John Thomas, the District 2 representative on the Muscogee County School Board, called Powell “the hero of the story” for leaking the surveillance video that shows Mosley carrying Montravious to the bus, although it doesn’t show any of the confrontation in the classroom. Citing privacy laws, MCSD has refused the Ledger-Enquirer’s request to release the classroom video.
Powell also filed a complaint with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission against Zehra Malone, who was Montravious’ teacher that day, for allegedly not following protocol.
Since May 2015, the lawsuit says, Powell, who is black, has applied for 18 principal positions within MCSD but hasn’t been granted an interview, despite having six years of experience as an administrator in the district and receiving a 4.6 out of 5 on his most recent performance evaluation.
In May 2017, the lawsuit says, Powell applied for three principal positions within MCSD but wasn’t granted an interview. Those positions were “filled by applicants who are less qualified than Dr. Powell.”
On or about May 3, 2017, Powell met with MCSD human resources chief Kathy Tessin to find out why he hasn’t been interviewed for any principal position, the lawsuit says. “Tessin told Dr. Powell that he would never be a principal in Muscogee County, Georgia because Dr. Powell refused to drop a complaint against a white male teacher when he was repeatedly asked to do so by MCSD nine years prior,” the lawsuit says.
That complaint stemmed from the 2008 incident in which a white male teacher, “without provocation,” the lawsuit says, punched Powell in the chest while Powell was working as a guidance counselor at Jordan Vocational High School.
The teacher “was not fired or suspended for punching Dr. Powell,” the lawsuit says. “Instead, Dr. Powell was urged to drop the complaint.”
In September 2016, the lawsuit says, “Dr. Powell was harassed by MCSD when he refused to rescind a write-up on, upon information and belief, a Caucasian teacher for her failure to report a student’s injury that occurred in her classroom at the AIM Edgewood Student Services Center alternative school.”
Powell was the highest-ranking official at the AIM program that day because principal Reginald Griffin was absent, so the teacher, Malone, was obligated to report the student’s injury to Powell, per MCSD policy, the lawsuit says.
On or about Oct. 4, 2016, the lawsuit says, Melanie Slaton, one of the lawyers representing MCSD, visited AIM and asked Powell to remove the “letter of concern” he issued Malone on or about Sept. 14, 2016. If he refused, the lawsuit says, “one would be written on him.”
Subsequently, the lawsuit says, “Dr. Powell started experiencing ongoing harassment from the school principal, Reginald Griffin, and MCSD.” The environment cause Powell “intense and severe stress,” the lawsuit says, and his doctor placed him on medical leave on Nov. 18, 2016.
Powell told Tessin on or about Jan. 3 that the work environment at AIM contributed to his medical condition, the lawsuit says. He returned to AIM on or about Jan. 10, 2017, and began “working as an administrator on assignment with Student Services, the lawsuit says.
On or about May 3, 2017, the lawsuit says, Tessin told Powell, without explanation, he was being demoted to school counselor, his pay would be cut and “he should seek employment in another county if he wanted to be an administrator.” Nonetheless, six days later, Powell’s received a 4.6 out of 5 on his annual performance evaluation, “which denotes that he exceeds expectations as an administrator,” the lawsuit says.
On or about May 10, 2017, Powell sent MCSD superintendent David Lewis a certified letter requesting a hearing with the school board to address his grievances, the lawsuit says. Lewis told him six days later he had no right to file a grievance about his demotion but told him he wanted to met again and “make it right,” the lawsuit says.
On or about May 18, 2017, Lewis rescinded the demotion and read him a letter stating he would give him “one more opportunity” in a leadership position. But the superintendent also stated, according to the lawsuit, “I expect to not have law enforcement called in the future over interpersonal conflict or perceived verbal threats. This has occurred three times in the past prior to your assignment to AIM. I will not have this occur again in the future.”
Lewis told Powell in the conclusion of his May 18 letter, attached as an exhibit in the lawsuit, “I will hold you accountable to improved human resource management in this next assignment, and I will expect your principal and Regional Chief to be candid with you on any behavior that is counterproductive to my goal of effective leadership in this school system.”
These statements, the lawsuit says, “reinforced” Powell’s understand that he was being placed on probation and being monitored.
On May 24, 2017, Powell filed with the EEOC a complaint, attached to the lawsuit as an exhibit, accusing MCSD of racially discriminating and retaliating against him. Also attached to the lawsuit as an exhibit is the EEOC’s June 6 response, which says “your allegations were not supported” and “you will have to file a private lawsuit if you want to continue to challenge the alleged discrimination.”
MCSD reassigned Powell from AIM to the assistant principal position shared between Dorothy Height and Fox elementary schools, according to the personnel report attached to the agenda for the school board’s July 2017 meeting. But now he is listed on MCSD’s website as an assistant principal at Jordan Vocational High School, where he began his MCSD career 17 years ago as a guidance counselor. In 2015, he was promoted to assistant principal of the AIM Program.
The lawsuit doesn’t mention a dollar amount, but Powell seeks: lost wages and lost fringe benefits; compensatory and punitive damages, including mental and emotional distress, back pay and front pay; and attorney’s fees and costs.
Archie Grubb II, with the Montgomery, Ala.-based law firm Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, filed Powell’s lawsuit Sept. 8 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. The Ledger-Enquirer gained electronic access to the lawsuit Tuesday morning and asked for a response from MCSD’s legal counsel, Slaton and Greg Ellington of the Atlanta-based law firm Hall Booth Smith, which has an office in Columbus. Tuesday evening, MCSD replied with this statement:
“The Muscogee County School District denies that it discriminated or retaliated against Mr. Eddie Powell. The School District has referred the lawsuit to its counsel, who will appropriately respond to the Complaint in court filings.”
Judge Clay Land is presiding over the case.