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Could New MNPS Harassment Lawsuit Be Game Changer?

Could New MNPS Harassment Lawsuit Be Game Changer?
Posted at 5:25 PM, Sep 04, 2018

Four Metro Schools employees, four sexual harassment claims, in less than four weeks.

However you add it up, it equals big problems for Metro Schools.

The most recent $1.2 million lawsuit, filed just before Labor Day, comes as the Metro School Board prepares to kick off a new term with three new members.

The alleged victim in this case, Dr. Vanessa Garcia, was once such a rising star that she was featured in a Trevecca University video talking of her love for education.

"I don't think there is a more meaningful profession in my opinion than making a difference in the lives of children," Garcia said.

Related story:
Metro Schools Faces $1.2 Million Harassment Suit

It comes amid a sexual harassment scandal first uncovered by NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

T.C. Weber, a local education blogger and a Metro Schools parent, said Garcia's lawsuit could be a game changer.

"This lawsuit is important because it's indicative of the whole culture," Weber said. "It's the one that first kicked it off."

Garcia's lawsuit accuses former Metro Schools administrator Mo Carrasco of grossly inappropriate sexual comments, as well as one occasion when he allegedly put his hand on her breast at a district Christmas party.

Carrasco has denied any wrongdoing.

After Garcia filed a formal complaint back in November, other witnesses came forward - and Carrasco resigned.

This past May, Garcia herself lost her job as part of a so-called "realignment."

"You had somebody that was in a position of management that made a charge of sexual impropriety against somebody that was close to management and, within six months, they're gone," Weber said.

As our investigation first revealed, School Board member Amy Frogge had warned Metro Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph back in August that she had heard from a woman who had been harassed by Carrasco, but was afraid to come forward for fear of losing her job.

Garcia's lawsuit says Carrasco and Joseph "were good friends and would vacation together."

In an email obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, Carrasco himself asked, "Why didn't Dr. Joseph contact HR at that time?"

Weber said, "It would have been a chance to show that we take these kind of charges very, very serious regardless of who it is. It doesn't matter if it's a friend. It doesn't matter if it's an acquaintance. We take these very serious - and we missed that opportunity."

Our investigation also uncovered horrific sexual harassment allegations against John F. Kennedy Middle School principal Dr. Sam Braden -- allegations that were buried in the district's own files where Joseph's team did nothing.

Since then, three current or former Metro Schools employees have filed their own harassment lawsuits against the district.

"At a time when we say we are broke and we don't have any money for things like essentials, a lawsuit of this size could be devastating," Weber said.

And, for the new school board, it's an issue that may dominate the conversation from day one.

Weber's take?

"I don't believe any of them ran on a platform of doing things exactly the same and not questioning Dr. Joseph. So, it will be interesting to see if there's not a shift and that we have people actually holding people accountable."

Meanwhile, the Tennessee State Board of Education has opened a review into the failure of Dr. Joseph's team to report cases where teachers were suspended or let go because of misconduct.

It began with a case that NewsChannel 5 Investigates first reported.

That's yet another issue that will be on the plate of the new school board.

Special Section:
NC5 Investigates: Metro Schools