Bill Moss, a 31-year veteran of the Wilson County School System whose position was eliminated by the director of schools in September, has filed a lawsuit in Wilson County Chancery Court against Dr. Tim Setterlund and the Wilson County Board of Education alleging wrongful termination.
The lawsuit, a copy of which was obtained by The Wilson Post, alleges that Moss’ “dismissal was not due to the abolition of his position, and, as a result, he was denied his statutory and constitutional right to notice and an impartial hearing before the board.”
Attorney Michael Clemons of Clemmons & Clemons PLLC, in Nashville, who filed the suit on behalf of Moss, said that Moss “felt that the abolishment of his position was done by Dr. Setterlund without authority to circumvent the benefits he would been entitled to under the law otherwise.”
According to the lawsuit, “Setterlund illegally abolished Moss’ position in order to terminate Moss and circumvent his rights under the Teacher Tenure Act” and avoid Moss’ legal right to be provided “sufficient notice and a hearing before the Board.”
“Mr. Moss obviously chose to retire because it was the only option he had. He had no desire to retire,” Clemons said.
As previously reported by The Post on Sept. 20, Setterlund, who replaced Mike Davis as the new director of schools on July 1, called Moss into his office on Friday, Sept. 13, to tell him that his position as Career & Technical (CTE) Supervisor had been eliminated.
The lawsuit states “Setterlund further stated that he and Moss had differing visions for the school system,” and that when Moss asked if the director thought they could work together, “Setterlund responded that he could not work with Moss.”
At the time of Moss’ firing, Setterlund told The Post, “Not everyone may share my vision. I’m examining the whole Central Office structure to ensure that it is efficient, cost effective and will achieve the goals of the district.”
The suit also alleges that Setterlund provided Moss with a letter dated, Sept. 13, 2013, that stated that his position had been abolished as “part of a restructuring of the Central Office and the supervisory personnel of Wilson County Schools” in accordance with Tennessee law and that his last day of employment was that day.
Additionally, the suit alleges that Setterlund told Moss that in order to keep his insurance, he would need to retire, which Moss “had no desire” to do “but complied … due to his need for income and insurance benefits.”
The suit states that Setterlund then presented Moss with a Separation Notice to complete and told him he would need it back by 5 p.m., and that he was “forbidden from returning to his office and was instructed to go immediately to the human resources department.”
The suit also alleges that although Setterlund’s letter states “tenure does not attach to a supervisory position,” Section 49-5-501(11) of the Tennessee Code Annotated states that “teacher” includes “ teachers, supervisors, principals, director of schools and other certified personnel employed by any local board of education, …”
Additionally, the suit claims that “minutes of the Board” do not show that “it took any action or made any decision regarding Moss’ position, the abolishment of which was done arbitrarily and capriciously by Defendant Setterlund in violation of state law, including the Teacher Tenure Act and Board policies.”
According to the lawsuit, Moss was not provided “any pre-abolishment notice of termination, explanation of abolishment of his position, or the opportunity to be heard.”
In addition, the suit alleges that even though Setterlund’s letter stated Moss would be “placed on a preferred list for employment,” the veteran CTE educator never was. That is a violation of Tennessee state law regarding the employment of educators if the termination is due to downsizing or other eligible factors, according to the suit.
The suit states that the BOE’s “reduction in force” policy requires the director to recommend to the board the employees “to be released when a reduction in force is necessary.” However, the suit alleges no such recommendation was ever made to the Board prior to his termination, and “Moss’ position was included in the budget approved by the Wilson County Commission at their August 2013 meeting.”
Additionally, the suit states that the “Board failed to evaluate or determine Mr. Moss’ fitness for reemployment, and the Board has never provided, on the record, the basis for terminating or failing to reemploy Mr. Moss or for abolishing his position” all required by Tennessee law, hence, “The Board failed to exercise reasonable care and caution in assuring that its Director of Schools did not assume their statutorily required duties.”
The suit asks the court to find that the actions of Setterlund and the board denied Moss his rights under state law, and that they pay damages “including back pay and front pay, as well as compensatory damages for humiliation and embarrassment,” along with “punitive damages” and his costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.
Wednesday afternoon, Mike Jennings, attorney for the Wilson County Board of Education, acknowledged that his office had received a copy of the lawsuit, but that he had not been formally served.
Amelia Morrison Hipps is a correspondent for The Wilson Post and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.