This post has been updated.
A Jefferson County Public Schools principal is suing the district over what she described as years of degrading behavior from a JCPS official as she worked to fix a “nightmare” of a school situation.
Kerrick Elementary Principal Lawanda Hazard filed suit in circuit court last week, asserting racial, gender, disability discrimination, and retaliation. JCPS is the sole defendant, but many of the assertions
A JCPS spokeswoman confirmed Monday night that both Hazard and Baete are still employed by the district. JCPS does not comment on pending litigation.
In the suit, Hazard, an African-American woman, asserted that Baete, a white man, routinely berated and degraded her in their interactions over nearly three years.
Brought on as principal in 2015, Hazard “inherited what could only be described as an absolute nightmare in the labor force,” according to the suit.
She inspected every role, investigated teachers for abuse and saw at least one teacher be removed for coming to school high on drugs, the suit asserted.
Her efforts to “uproot the corrupt and inadequate system” at Kerrick went “wholly unrecognized,” instead receiving backlash from Baete, the suit contended. As her supervisor at the time, Baete was in charge of evaluating Hazard’s work performance.
In many situations, Hazard asserted, Baete seemed to be kinder to white males
Baete “made it clear he cared very little about” Hazard, making it known he supported someone else for her job, the suit said. He berated her leadership skills, and used work evaluations to “reflect these views in an outrageous and absurd fashion,” the suit said.
Despite complaints of poor performance, she said, Baete never began a performance enhancement plan because there was “no real need to do so.”
Realizing the negative remarks would remain in her personnel file, Hazard asked how to appeal the evaluation. According to the suit, Baete allegedly told her the wrong method, so she wasn’t able to appeal.
Baete also encouraged other employees to make “false, retaliatory and harassing complaints” about her, Hazard asserted.
For example, she contended that after she formally disciplined an assistant principal at the school, the AP filed unsubstantiated complaints as an act of alleged retaliation. At least one of those complaints was later found to be “completely fabricated,” according to a suit exhibit.
Because of the interactions, Hazard said she began having anxiety and used a heart monitor at one point. During one period, the medical issues made her feel uncomfortable evaluating the assistant principal one-on-one, but Baete told her it was JCPS policy to hold evaluations and to do so in that manner, the suit contended, adding that it was not JCPS policy.
“There has been one disappoint after another,” Hazard wrote in an email to Baete around that time. “Through it all, I have always tried to do the right thing. The personal attacks, schemes and allegations have resulted in ongoing harassment and emotional trauma.”
As part of a larger district realignment, Baete switched to working with high schools last summer. While giving Hazard some relief, her record is “tarnished” and her physical health is “fragile,” the suit said.
“The fact that Dr. Baete switched positions does not eradicate or erase the severe and pervasive emotional trauma Ms. Hazard suffered under his supervision or at his direction, nor does it erase JCPS’ role in facilitating Dr. Baete’s behavior,” Linsey Shrewsbury, Hazard’s attorney, said in an email Tuesday.
Hazard has a “rational fear” of retaliatory action from the district, Shrewsbury wrote, but isn’t aware of any actions against her since filing suit.
Since Hazard took over in 2015, Kerrick’s test scores slumped. Around half the school’s students were proficient or distinguished in reading and math in the 2015-16 school year. Those numbers dropped to around 38 percent in the 2017-18 school year, according to test results released in September.
Employee approval of Hazard seemed to grow, according to district survey data. A majority of teachers said she did not provide effective leadership, according to 2016 results. That trend had flipped by the 2018 results, with over half saying she is an effective leader.
Hazard asked for a jury trial and unspecified damages as part of the suit.