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New settlements put MNPS sexual harassment bills near $2 million

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Posted at 3:57 PM, Feb 26, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Almost a year after Dr. Shawn Joseph resigned as Nashville's director of schools, taxpayers are still paying for his administration's mishandling of sexual harassment allegations.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates has discovered that, in the last month, the Metro School Board has quietly approved settlements of nearly a million dollars in just two lawsuits.

The total bill for the district's sexual harassment scandal, first exposed by NewsChannel 5, is now approaching $2 million.

"The lesson is do the right thing and, if you don't, there are consequences," said Nashville lawyer Gary Blackburn.

Blackburn just reached a $425,000 settlement on behalf of former human resources official Scott Lindsey.

Lindsey had sued after he was forced out, he says, for leading a vigorous investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Joseph friend Mo Carrasco, then insisting that allegations against middle school principal Sam Braden also be properly investigated.

The former HR official told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that the mood in his department was "almost as if ISIS took over."

"If Metro Schools had done the right thing, Scott Lindsey would still be in the HR department and they would have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars," Blackburn said.

The board also recently approved another $425,000 settlement with former administrator Vanessa Garcia, who charged that Carrasco had touched her inappropriately and subjected her to other harassment.

School board member Amy Frogge had warned Joseph that she had received a complaint about Carrasco's behavior, but Joseph decided not to order an HR investigation.

The former schools director had insisted he did everything by the book, but a judge had recently disagreed in a ruling against Metro.

"Contrary to the harassment policy in place at the time, the Director of Schools himself appears to have believed that no action was required until an official written complaint was filed with human resources," Judge Williams Campbell Jr. wrote.

Garcia herself was later let go.

Beginning in 2018, our investigation had first uncovered disturbing allegations in the district's own files the involving John F. Kennedy Middle School principal, Sam Braden.

After our first reports, Joseph had urged school board members to ignore the stories, insisting there was nothing to it - even though assistant principal Howard Jones told us he had personally tried to warn the schools director.

But it wasn't until days after the first NewsChannel 5 investigation aired aired that Braden was finally forced to resign.

The district later paid out $350,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by three victims.

In addition to that settlement and the $425,000 each paid to Lindsey and Garcia, Metro Schools has already paid $370,000 to a private law firm to defend the Garcia case, with more bills expected.

Along with $100,000 paid for a second law firm to review district HR practices, the bill to taxpayers now stands at $1.7 million.

Two lawsuits are still pending, although those cases are not expected to bring a huge price.

Attorney Gary Blackburn said there's a lesson for school systems about how to deal with such sexual harassment allegations.

"By and large, yes, these problems, if they are dealt with initially and appropriately, not only does the school board benefit and the children benefit, but the children benefit because of the avoidance of the expense," he added.

On top of that, the school board paid about $350,000 to buy out Joseph's contract.

If that's added in, the total cost to taxpayers comes to more than $2 million.

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NC5 Investigates: Metro Schools