Jill Micco, a 23-year veteran of the Wilson County School System whose position was eliminated by the director of schools in September, is the second individual to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against Director of Schools Dr. Tim Setterlund and the Board of Education.
Micco, who was supervisor of special education for Wilson County Schools, was terminated on Sept. 12, a day before Setterlund terminated 31-year veteran and fellow educator Bill Moss, who was the Career & Technical Education (CTE) Supervisor.
Attorney Michael Clemons of Clemmons & Clemons PLLC, in Nashville are representing both Micco and Moss. Both lawsuits were filed in Chancery Court for Wilson County. Micco’s suit was filed on Nov. 21.
BOE Attorney Mike Jennings, who will not be the lead counsel for either suit but was authorized to accept receivership of them, said he was authorized to receive the suits on behalf of the board and Setterlund.
“We have forwarded it to our insurance company attorney, and we’ll defend it,” Jennings said.
While both suits are very similar, there are two notable differences.
The first is that the BOE voted at its Nov. 4 meeting to officially abolish Micco’s position, but has yet to take any official action to eliminate Moss’ position.
“It is very similar to Bill Moss’ lawsuit,” Jennings said. “One thing that’s different, of course, is that the board has now voted to abolish her position, so that’s one little different fact.”
When asked by The Wilson Post in an email if that makes any difference in the suit, Clemons replied, “The fact that the BOE voted to officially abolish Mrs. Micco’s position at this month’s (November) meeting does not negate the fact that her position was abolished in violation of the law, thus it does not make it different from Mr. Moss' suit.”
When asked the same question by The Post, Jennings said, “I’m not going to comment on that at this time.”
The second difference is that while Moss’ suit alleges that Setterlund told Moss that in order to keep his insurance, he would need to retire, which Moss “had no desire” to do “but complied … due to his need for income and insurance benefits,” Micco was not eligible for retirement.
The lawsuit states “as a result of her unexpected termination, Mrs. Micco was forced to prematurely withdraw money from her retirement account, incurring penalties and taxes.”
Micco began her teaching career in 1990 as a school psychologist, earning tenure “in or around 1994,” according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Post.
In 2004, the BOE appointed Micco supervisor of special education for Wilson County Schools.
Micco signed her “statement of intent” with the BOE indicating she intended to return to the local school system for the 2013-14 school year “on or about Jan. 24, 2013.”
Setterlund replaced former director of schools Mike Davis as the new director on July 1, the same day that the 2013-14 school year began.
The suit states that on Thursday, Sept. 12, Setterlund called Micco into his office “and stated that he had abolished Micco’s position. … that he and Micco had differing visions for the school system.”
He presented a letter dated Sept. 11, 2013, that stated, “As part of a restructuring of the Central Office and the supervisory personnel of Wilson County Schools, the current position of Special Education Supervisor has been abolished.” The letter states that it was done in accordance with Tennessee law and that her last day of employment was that day.
The suit also states that Micco was never placed on a preferred list of employment, even though the letter stated she would be as required by Tennessee state law, which states, “A tenured teacher who has been dismissed because of abolition of a position shall be placed on a list for reemployment in the first vacancy the teacher is qualified by training and experience to fill.”
Additionally, the suit states that the “minutes of the Board do not reflect that it took any action or made any decision regarding Micco’s position prior to September 11, 2013, which was done arbitrarily and capriciously by Defendant Setterlund in violation of state law, including the Teacher Tenure Act and Board policies.”
As in Moss’ lawsuit, Micco’s lawsuit states that “Defendants failed to evaluate or determine Mrs. Micco’s fitness for reemployment and failed to provide Mrs. Micco with written notice of dismissal explaining fully the circumstances or conditions making the dismissal necessary, all as required under Tennessee Code Annotated Section 49-5-511.”
The suit also states that the BOE’s “reduction in force” policy requires the director to recommend to the board the employees “to be released when a reduction in force is necessary.” However, the suit alleges no such recommendation was ever made to the Board prior to her termination, and “Mrs. Micco’s position was included in the budget approved by the Wilson County Commission at their August 2013 meeting.”
The suit asks for damages that include “back pay and front pay as well as compensatory damages for humiliation, embarrassment, and penalties and taxes incurred by Plaintiff (Mrs. Micco) as a result of withdrawing retirement funds early.
It also asks for “actual compensatory and punitive damages” as a result of Micco’s constitutional rights being denied under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Tennessee Constitution, as well as “her costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.”
The suit claims Mrs. Micco possessed a property interest “in continued employment in the Wilson County school system,” and that by denying her “notice and a hearing, Defendants also knowingly deprived her of an established property right without due process of the law.”