Judge orders NASD to pay lost wages, benefits, fees to former principal

Published 12:05 am Thursday, December 3, 2015

NATCHEZ — A federal judge added Wednesday another year of pay and retirement benefits to the award given by a civil jury in the case of a white principal who successfully argued the Natchez-Adams School District’s top administrators racially discriminated against her.

The order also included that the district pay former Principal Cindy Idom’s attorney costs and fees, as well as at least 3.5-percent annually compounding interest on previously awarded backpay of $271,737.

Judge David Bramlette III said the interest would only apply to the backpay portion of the judgment.

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Before the interest is applied, the case will cost the school district at least $641,216. Idom will receive at least $466,006 from the case.

While the plaintiffs had asked for an 8-percent interest rate — which Mississippi law allows — Bramlette said he would set the rate at 3.5 percent unless the attorneys could show him the 8-percent rate is mandatory rather than discretionary.

The percentage was based in part on the current prime rate, Bramlette said. The current prime rate is 3.25 percent.

Idom’s attorneys had asked for front pay — or future lost wages — to cover through what would have been retirement at age 65, the final years of which she wasn’t able to complete after retiring at age 61.

Bramlette said he would grant some front pay because, while reinstatement in her old job would be preferable, it wasn’t possible because of the “acrimony” of the alleged hostile and discriminatory workplace.

But instead of granting the full request, Bramlette said he believed one year of front pay was warranted because it was reasonable to expect that someone with Idom’s professional experience and accolades could find a job within a year.

The additional year of front pay would add $84,269 in wages and between $10,000 and $11,000 in retirement benefits to the judgment, he said.

While granting the request for attorney’s fees, Bramlette reduced the total number of billable hours the attorneys would be given, as well as their billable rate.

He reduced attorney Will Ivison’s total billable hours from 707 to 480, and his hourly rate to $175 an hour from $200 an hour.

Bramlette left attorney Ken Adcock’s total billable hours at 306.2 hours, but reduced his hourly rate from $300 to $275 an hour.

Including their work — and the work of another attorney and a paralegal on the case — the total legal bill Bramlette granted comes to $170,210. He granted the attorneys an additional $5,000 in fees accrued after the case because the defense had requested Wednesday’s hearing.

Bramlette said the matter was a “moderately difficult” case that was “well tried by skilled attorneys on both sides,” but the request for 1,028 total billable hours was “too many hours expended on this case.”

The judge also granted payment of $4,100.22 in fees, $4,475.25 in taxable costs and $3,900 in fees for expert witnesses in the case.

The jury award from the case — which was tried in September — was for $271,737 in back pay and damages from the school district, $75,000 from Superintendent Frederick Hill and $25,000 from Assistant Superintendent Tanisha Smith.

Idom filed her case in May 2014, 10 months after resigning her then-post at Frazier Elementary School at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. She had been transferred there a month earlier after 11 years as principal at West Elementary School

During the trial, Idom said school district officials told the court she was disciplined for incidents in which black principals who had done the same thing weren’t and was the target of aggressive management techniques that were tantamount to bullying.

Idom said she resigned following a meeting with Hill and Smith in July 2013 in which she was removed as principal and told she could only have a position as a teacher, a human resources move she called “a degrading demotion.”

Idom said the demotion was predicated on low standardized test scores at West.

But the school had only taken the tests for the first time in 2013, and Idom was not given a chance to improve them before being transferred and then demoted, she said.

Idom told the court West did not receive needed facility upgrades following the district-wide reorganization from grade-based to neighborhood-based schools in 2012, creating an educational environment that often made adequate teaching difficult.

Two other wrongful termination lawsuits against the school district are pending, though the plaintiffs in those cases — Shannon Doughty and Regina McCoy — did not allege race discrimination.

In those cases, both plaintiffs allege they faced demotion or resignation based on projections of school performance test scores that predicted the schools at which they were employed would fail. When the scores came out, however, the schools improved.