CHILTON COUNTY, Ala. (WIAT) — Last month, an Alabama school superintendent lost to his employees in court. Now, he’s asking the state’s highest court to step in.
Chilton County Schools Superintendent Jason Griffin has filed a petition in the Alabama Supreme Court, asking the state’s highest judicial body to order a local judge to dismiss a lawsuit against him. The judge had ruled against Griffin last month, allowing the suit to move forward.
The lawsuit, filed by two school system employees, claims Griffin illegally demanded that the employees pay the system thousands of dollars to correct past payroll errors.
Christie Payne, a lunchroom manager at Verbena High School represented in the lawsuit, was told she owed $23,465.40 dating back to the 2016-17 school year.
Shellie Smith, wife of school board member Chris Smith, is the other employee represented in the suit. She said that opening the letter from the school system demanding payments was “sickening.” The letter sent to Smith and signed by the superintendent demanded that the 19-year employee repay over $33,000 they claimed she was overcompensated as a result of repeated payroll errors.
In October, a Chilton County judge considered whether to grant a request by Griffin to dismiss the suit. The superintendent had argued he was immune from the lawsuit under a legal doctrine called sovereign immunity which limits claims against the state. In an order issued less than an hour after a hearing on the matter ended, Judge Sibley Reynolds ruled sovereign immunity law did not require that the employees’ lawsuit be dismissed.
Now, Griffin has filed a petition in the Alabama Supreme Court asking the justices to order Judge Sibley to dismiss the case.
“Christy Payne (sic) and Shellie Smith’s claims made against Jason Griffin, the Superintendent of Chilton County Board of Education, in his official capacity are absolutely barred by sovereign immunity,” Griffin’s petition said.
While Payne and Smith are the only employees named in the lawsuit, CBS 42 has spoken to others who received similar letters from the school system. One of them, a bus driver who’s worked for the district for nearly two decades, said he doesn’t plan to pay the money or respond to the district in any way.
Another employee, Frances Allison, said shehad already paid the money back because she was afraid of what might happen if she refused.
“I didn’t want the police to bring anything to my job or house,” Allison said. So she agreed: she’d pay up.
Allison believes the school system should return the money that was garnished from her paychecks to correct the school system’s mistake, adding it’s the right thing to do.
Allison, who retired in June, said she wants Griffin to understand that his actions have made life unnecessarily difficult for many hardworking employees.
“It is not right, what’s been done,” Allison said. “It was not our fault.”
CBS 42 reached out to Smith and Payne’s legal team about Griffin’s effort to bring the case to the state supreme court. We have not heard back as of Tuesday afternoon.