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Sexual harassment scandal may cost MNPS $350,000 in first settlements

MNPS Protected Sexual Harassers, Lawsuit Claims
Posted at 6:28 AM, Feb 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-13 21:14:33-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A sexual harassment scandal inside Metro Schools could soon end up costing you a lot of money.

Under the terms of a proposed deal, the district would be required to pay out $350,000 to settle sexual harassment lawsuits brought by three current or former employees at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Antioch, according to their attorney. The employees alleged horrific abuse by former principal Sam Braden.

The scandal, which was first exposed by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, could end up costing taxpayers much more with at least two other cases still pending.

"I hope the lawsuit itself sends the message that Metro has to take these complaints of sexual harassment more seriously and deal with them," attorney Gary Blackburn said.

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The Metro School Board must still approve the settlements.

Blackburn said the settlement agreement was reached last week during mediation with lawyers representing Metro Schools.

One of the plaintiffs, Sherman Swindall, first told NewsChannel 5 Investigates about Braden trying to coerce him into graphic sex acts.

Our investigation discovered that the district's own files show that, after the man complained, an human resources investigator uncovered overwhelming evidence against Braden.

But Metro Schools did nothing to the veteran principal.

Science teacher Sonji Collins also complained about being sexually harassed by Braden.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Collins last year, "What happened as a result of your complaint?"

"I still have yet to hear from them," she told us back in August 2018.

Metro Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph and his team initially defended Braden, until public pressure mounted and the district put him on leave.

Braden decided to retire.

Now, under the terms of the proposed settlement, the district will pay out $350,000 to settle the claims by Swindall, Collins and teacher Marcus Kinnon.

Blackburn declined to say how much each person will receive until the settlement has been approved by the school board.

"It's a negotiation," the veteran Nashville lawyer said. "And if you walk out wishing you had had more, and the defendant wishes he had paid less, it's a pretty good deal. And that's what this was."

Metro Schools spokesperson Rob Johnson said there is not much the district can say.

"Any settlement amount must be approved by the Board of Education," Johnson said by email.

"Once the board approves a settlement, a settlement agreement may be open record, including the names of the parties and any amounts involved."

If the settlement is not approved, Blackburn predicted that costs to the district could skyrocket, including the costs of pre-trial depositions and the cost of a trial itself.

Meanwhile, Blackburn is also representing former Metro Schools HR manager Scott Lindsey, who alleges he was fired for insisting that sexual harassment cases be properly investigated.

A former Metro Schools administrator, Vanessa Garcia, has filed a separate sexual harassment lawsuit in federal court, where she's asking for $1.2 million dollars.

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