Former Pine Bluff superintendent files lawsuit against district


A lawsuit by a former superintendent of Pine Bluff School District has been moved to federal court.

Former superintendent Jerry O. Payne filed the suit against his former employer Oct. 15 in Jefferson County Circuit Court alleging breach of contract and violation of his procedural due process rights. Payne is seeking a jury trial.

The school district filed a ‘Notice of Removal’ with U.S. District Judge Leon Holmes Nov. 2 requesting that the suit be moved to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas as well as a motion to dismiss the suit.

Holmes set a trial date during the week of Nov. 4, 2013.

Payne’s suit

Payne alleges in his suit that the district breached the contractual agreement between the two parties and that as a result of what Payne alleges are unlawful actions by the district, he suffered significant damages in addition to harm to his reputation.

Payne also alleges that his right to procedural due process was violated because he was denied the opportunity for a fair and unbiased hearing.

In his suit, Payne said that he acted in accordance with the terms and conditions of the contractual agreement as superintendent beginning July 1, 2011, until “the District Board of Directors took the improper and unlawful actions as set forth herein in violation of the specific contractual agreement between the parties.”

“Almost immediately, the District, acting through various members of its duly elected Board of Directors, began an intentional process to frustrate Plaintiff’s [Payne’s] ability to act as Superintendent of the District in accordance with the contractual agreement between the parties and as authorized and mandated by the laws of the State of Arkansas,” Payne said in his suit.

District response

The school district attorney Luther Sutter filed a motion to dismiss Payne’s suit in U.S. District Court Nov. 2, arguing that there was no breach of contract because in the district’s view Payne was terminated under the “no cause” provision of the employment contract; and Payne’s due process rights were not violated because he did not request post-termination process, creating a waiver to due process.

Timeline

Payne was terminated without cause Feb. 29, 2012, effective June 30, 2012, via a letter from then board president Herman Horace.

The board held a special called meeting Feb. 28 in which they went into executive session and after reconvening in public session said that no action was taken with regard to any employment contracts.

At the board’s May 15, 2012, regular monthly meeting Sutter was asked to prepare a letter to Payne outlining the board’s reasons he should be terminated for cause, which was delivered to him May 18.

A public hearing was held in the school district board room May 29 in which the board of directors voted unanimously to fire Payne for cause effective immediately.