The Hamilton County Department of Education and former schools Superintendent Rick Smith claim three former employees can't hold them liable for any fallout stemming from the 2015 Ooltewah High School pool cue rape.
Smith and Hamilton County Schools filed a joint response to the federal lawsuit filed against them last month by former Ooltewah High School principal Jim Jarvis, the school's former athletic director Allard "Jesse" Nayadley, and former head basketball coach Andre "Tank" Montgomery.
"Defendants aver that many of the verified allegations by the Plaintiffs are patently false, and the claims are frivolous," the response states. " Defendants aver that to the extent Plaintiffs have any damages their failure to mitigate those damages preclude or limit their recovery."
The lawsuit, filed by the three former employees and their wives — Amelia Jarvis, Janet Nayadley and Bonita Montgomery — names the Hamilton County Department of Education, Tennessee Department of Children's Services, Hamilton County, the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston and Smith.
The other defendants in the case are expected to file responses to the lawsuit in coming weeks.
The lawsuit alleges negligence, age and race discrimination, wrongful termination, defamation, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, among other things in connection with the rape case. Each of the men asks for at least $25,000 for emotional harm, pain and suffering, $1,550,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. The wives each ask for $100,000 in damages for loss of consortium.
But Smith and the school district are not responsible, the response claims, and the three men cannot collect punitive damages from them. The response also says that, if found at fault, Smith and the district will rely upon the doctrine of comparative fault, hoping to shift responsibility onto the other officials and departments named in the lawsuit.
In December 2015, an Ooltewah High School freshman was raped by his basketball teammates with a pool cue during a team trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn. The victim, 15 at the time of the attack, suffered injuries so severe he was rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery.
The victim filed a federal lawsuit against Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery, including the Hamilton County Board of Education, late last year in connection with the attack. Another victim, also sexually assaulted by his teammates during the trip, also filed a federal lawsuit in the case.
Both lawsuits are moving toward trial next year, and claim that Hamilton County Schools and the three men ignored signs of abuse and allowed a culture of bullying and sexual assault to fester at the school, leaving students unprotected. The three former Ooltewah employees responded to both lawsuits last year, claiming they should not be held liable for the assaults and placing the blame solely on the students who were convicted in connection with the attack.
In the lawsuit filed by the three men against state, county and school officials, they deny that a culture of abuse existed at the school before the rape. They each claim they've suffered humiliation, damage and discrimination. All three men also claim Hamilton County Schools acted on false facts and information when making adverse employment decisions about them, and argue they were discriminated against because of their age, sex and race.
The response claims Montgomery and Nayadley were not unlawfully suspended, waived their rights to due process and failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The response defends Jarvis' reassignment last spring.
"Defendants aver that Plaintiffs' defamation claims and malicious prosecution claims are absolutely barred by the truth of the alleged statements," the response states. "Defendants aver that [Hamilton County Schools] had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for its employment actions. These employment decisions were based on reasonable facts other than age, sex and race."
The lawsuit specifically goes after Smith, claiming he misrepresented information, policy, procedures, protocol and fiduciary duties with regard to the three men.
"This caused a media frenzy and circus of misreported facts, irresponsible reporting, misrepresentations, speculation, conjecture, and media vilifications of Jarvis, Nayadley and Montgomery," the lawsuit claims.
The response disputes that, saying the school system and Smith did not misreport or misrepresent information to the public.
The response also states some of the claims in the lawsuit should be thrown out because of the statute of limitations. It also says the state's Governmental Tort Liability Act, which protects governmental boards from lawsuits and limits the amount of damages that can be paid, bars many of the plaintiff's claims.
The response asks that the lawsuit be thrown out and attorneys' fees and other costs be awarded to the defendants for having to defend "this frivolous action."
Carl Spinning, an attorney based in Nashville, filed the response on behalf of Smith and the school district. A different attorney is representing Hamilton County Schools in the two lawsuits filed by victims in connection with the Ooltewah High School rape.
This story was updated July 25 at 11:05 p.m.