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City Schools of Decatur denies allegations made in two federal lawsuits

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City Schools of Decatur denies allegations made in two federal lawsuits

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: The City Schools of Decatur Board of Education. Top row, left to right: former Superintendent David Dude and School Board Chair Lewis Jones. Bottom row, left to right: School board members James Herndon, Tasha White (Vice Chair), Heather Tell and Jana Johnson-Davis. Image obtained via City Schools of Decatur

Decatur, GA — City Schools of Decatur has responded to two federal lawsuits, denying claims that Superintendent David Dude retaliated against employees.

One of those lawsuits, filed by former human resources director David Adams, made allegations that will be the focus of a separate, independent investigation commissioned by the school district. Adams claimed that Dude pushed him and finance director Susan Hurst out of the district after they raised questions about Dude’s use of vacation time. The lawsuit says Dude used more vacation hours than permitted by his contract. This was reported to the school district’s attorney and shortly thereafter, “Dude began a frivolous investigation” of Adams, the lawsuit says.

Investigative reporting by Decaturish revealed evidence supporting claims that Dude is frequently absent in excess of the vacation days he’s recorded in the district’s payroll system. Dude received $100,000 in additional compensation for cashing out the vacation days he said he didn’t use. He’s allowed to cash out 30 of his unused days, according to his current contract.

When the School Board announced that it was hiring an independent investigator to look into claims raised in our reporting, the board said Dude does not have to use vacation days during times when the district is closed, like Thanksgiving break. However, the board hasn’t said whether those breaks include the summer months. Two employees of CSD, one of whom works in Dude’s cabinet, the group of individuals who oversee district operations, and another familiar with the inner workings of CSD’s central office, said Dude is often absent and unreachable during the summer months. Adams’ lawsuit says, “Defendant Dude was reporting taking nominal time off per year to the CSD Board, but was actually taking six to seven weeks off from work entirely during the summers, in addition to being gone on non-work district holidays. Defendant Dude worked less than even the employees whose contracts were for 220 days per year.”

Evidence shows that during the summer of 2019, Dude was out of the office from June 11 through July 16, 2019. But according to vacation requests he entered into the school district’s payroll system, Dude’s only vacation days in the summer of 2019 were on July 12 and July 15.

The other lawsuit, filed by Cheryl Nahmias, formerly a Decatur High Instructional Coach/International Baccalaureate Coordinator, alleges racial discrimination and retaliation by the district. Her son made a racist video which became public in May 2020. She sued the school district after she was demoted and reassigned to a job within CSD’s central office. She claims the demotion was the culmination of a months’ long campaign of retaliation against her for sticking up for her son’s rights and for years of whistleblowing activities within the district.

When Hurst and Adams left the district, district officials described their simultaneous departure as “coincidental,” and in a subsequent interview with Decaturish, Dude said that prior to Adams departure, the district’s attorneys investigated complaints about him.

Adams lawsuit alleges that Dude’s public statement to Decaturish about his departure from the district hampered his ability to find work and breached a non-disparagement clause of his severance agreement with the district. In its response to his lawsuit, the district denies the claim referencing Dude’s statement, but the response doesn’t make clear if Dude is denying the quote published in Decaturish.com. There are notes from that interview confirming the quote as well as a document Dude gave a reporter prior to the interview that also summarizes what he would eventually say during that interview. After the publication of that story, district officials did not contact Decaturish asking for a correction or claiming the superintendent had been misquoted.

The school district’s attorneys did not return a message seeking comment.

Adams lawsuit says Dude is required to work 255 days per academic year. However, upon reviewing his contracts, Decaturish was unable to find any language specifying the number of days Dude is required to work or what days he’s entitled to take off without recording it as vacation time. The School Board hasn’t answered questions about how many days Dude is expected to work in any given year.

In its response, the school district denies that Dude is required to work 255 days a year.

CSD is asking for Adams complaint to be dismissed. It’s also asking the same for the complaint filed by Nahmias

The School Board has yet to announce an independent investigator who will be tasked with digging into the claims in the Adams suit and the issues uncovered in Decaturish.com’s reporting. The School Board also hasn’t responded to a list of two dozen questions about this issue, saying those answers may not be available until the end of April. In response to our reporting, the School Board rescinded Dude’s most recent contract and plans to renegotiate it. The contract that the board rescinded, which would’ve gone into effect July 1, appeared to make firing Dude for cause more difficult and made it more expensive to fire him for the board’s convenience.

Decaturish has asked the School Board whether it will place Dude on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation and whether the board will renegotiate Dude’s contract before that investigation has concluded.

The School Board will hold a closed-door meeting, known as an executive session, at 5 p.m. on March 30. The meeting will be to discuss legal and personnel issues.

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