The Grundy County, Tennessee, school district still has not formally responded to a lawsuit filed in January by a former school bus driver who said she never received the bonus check to which she is entitled.
On Aug. 10, 2017, the school board voted to include bus drivers in the nonprofessional staff bonuses for this school year.
In her lawsuit, Terri Tate claims her civil rights were violated when she was singled out and not paid the bonus approved for all non-licensed personnel. She said she found out when she asked administrators when she could pick up her check and was told her name wasn't on the list of employees getting a check.
Other bus drivers did receive a bonus, but only half of it, they said at last month's board meeting.
The board then approved the remainder of the bonus money to be paid, something that may have been prompted by Tate's lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges Director of Schools Jessie Kinsey withheld Tate's bonus with malicious intent because Tate's daughter is school board member Kasey Anderson. Kinsey and former school board Chairman Robert Foster have filed a lawsuit against Anderson for defamation of character and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Documents obtained by the Times Free Press show a Nov. 15 group email to Foster and school board attorney Chuck Cagle in which Kinsey asks for guidance regarding Tate's request for her bonus.
After pointing out that Tate is Anderson's mother, Kinsey writes, "[Tate] resigned this summer and then later said she was going to 'retire' the first week of August. She has not drove a bus this year for our school system."
Kinsey adds that the board approved the bonus for nonlicensed personnel at the September meeting, and there was no statement in the proposal made for former employees to receive a bonus. Board minutes only partly corroborate this.
While the board did approve bus drivers to be added to the group getting bonuses before Tate's retirement, the exact amount — $100 for every year of service, excluding the first year and capped at $3,000 — wasn't approved until the September meeting. However, that amount is in fact written in the proposal presented to the board before the Aug. 10 vote, and school board member Chris Groom mentions the amount before he makes a motion to approve the inclusion of bus drivers.
The minutes, however, do not reflect this, which is why it was presented again for a vote in September to approve the final amount.
Documents do show Tate did not drive a bus this school year, but because she had taken sick days from Aug. 1-15.
As for when Tate left the school system, her personnel file only shows one letter from her on July 6 notifying Kinsey of her retirement on Aug. 15. Kinsey signed that letter, but on the same day signed another letter that used the word "resignation." Tate also signed that letter.
When she found out she wouldn't be getting a bonus, Tate said she tried to reach Kinsey 15 times from Nov. 15-Dec. 15. Kinsey never returned her phone calls, she said.
"I worked at that job for 20 years," she told the Times Free Press. "I drove that bus when it paid nothing."
She said by Kinsey not acknowledging her, "she let me know my 20 years was worth nothing."
Kinsey declined to comment and referred all questions to Cagle.
Cagle said he and Tate's attorney are in discussions "about the filing of an answer" and whatever is agreed upon will carry out in court.
Tate's attorney, Jerry Hood, was not available for comment Thursday.
Contact staff writer Rosana Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327.