Metro Schools Faces $1.2 Million Harassment Lawsuit

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A former Metro Schools administrator has filed a $1.2 million lawsuit against Metro Nashville Public Schools, accusing the district of creating a "sexually hostile work environment, retaliation and [a] retaliatory hostile work environment."

The federal lawsuit was filed by Vanessa Garcia, who served as executive lead principal for elementary schools and interim chief academic officer prior to the arrival of Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph. After Joseph's arrival in 2016, Garcia was demoted, then fired as part of a "realignment."

Garcia becomes the fourth person to file a harassment lawsuit against Metro Schools in the last month as the scandal involving the district continues to grow.

"As a direct and proximate result of Defendant's unlawful actions, harassment and sexually hostile work environment, Plaintiff has suffered and continues to suffer emotional pain, suffering, stress, anxiety, loss of enjoyment of life, pain and suffering, humiliation and professional and personal embarrassment, and depression and inconvenience," says the lawsuit filed by Nashville attorney Ann Steiner.

The federal lawsuit alleges that Garcia was subjected to inappropriate touching and comments by Moreno (Mo) Carrasco, a longtime friend of the Metro Schools director.

As NewsChannel 5 Investigates has previously revealed, a school board member told Joseph that a woman, whom she did not identify at the time, had reported being sexually harassed by Carrasco.

Our investigation revealed that Joseph told Carrasco about the conversation, but did not order an HR investigation of his friend.

Carrasco has previously denied the allegations.

According to Garcia's lawsuit, her problems with Carrasco began shortly after Joseph brought him to Nashville.

Carrasco would "eye" her body, the lawsuit claims. His secretary told Garcia that Carrasco thought she was attractive.

During a December 2016 party hosted by Metro Schools, Carrasco was drinking and intoxicated, the lawsuit says.

Carrasco approached Garcia in front of MNPS executives, "put his right arm over her shoulder and rested his hand on her breast." Carrasco allegedly whispered in her ear, "If you weren't married, I would so date you."

In March 2017, Garcia and three co-workers were forced to reapply for their jobs.

Before Metro Schools announced the results of that process, Carrasco informed Garcia "that she would not be remaining in her job but that she was the only one he wanted to work for him and that they would be creating a new department at MNPS."

Garcia was demoted to executive director of leadership development, reporting directly to Carrasco. 

Shortly thereafter, the lawsuit claims that Carrasco asked Garcia to come to his apartment to work. At the end of the work day, he tried to persuade her to stay for dinner, saying "I want to see if you can salsa dance."

Garcia "told him she was a terrible dancer and left."

In addition, Garcia's lawsuit claims Carrasco told her about dreams involving her, suggested he had thought at one point they were going to kiss and offered to let her read "crazy hot" text messages between him and an assistant principal who worked for MNPS.

As Garcia continued to report to Carrasco, he "would call Plaintiff 'Baby' and 'Darling' and would always eye her body up and down," the lawsuit alleges.

"He would call her at night on numerous occasions to ask non-work questions like 'How are you doing?' He would tell her the details about his sex life with other MNPS employees."

During a November meeting to go over Garcia's goals, Carrasco complained of "dissatisfaction with her demeanor and she was holding back on making positive contributions to the team. He also stated her personal life (family) was getting in the way of her work."

Carrasco allegedly warned her, "I would hate to have to make changes at the end of the year because you are not performing."

At that point, Garcia filed a formal complaint.

The subsequent investigation revealed other complaints from other women.

As the investigation neared its end, Carrasco resigned.

Still, Garcia's lawsuit references allegations made by the three other plaintiffs that a high-ranking human resources official, Sharon Pertiller, had warned the investigator "that he had better investigate this right for Dr. Joseph (meaning in favor of Moreno Carrasco) or he will fire you."

When the investigation went against Carrasco, the lawsuit says, the investigator was forced out.

Garcia was let go as part of a May 2018 "realignment."

In addition to $1.2 million in compensatory damages, the lawsuit asks that Garcia be reinstated with pay. It also asks for punitive damages and attorney fees.

You can read the lawsuit below:

 

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