Former PRP principal files lawsuit against JCPS
David Johnson claims the school district illegally withheld nearly $11,000 in wages.
Tuesday, August 12th 2014, 2:17 PM EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky., (WDRB) -- The former principal of Pleasure Ridge Park High School has filed a lawsuit against the Jefferson County Board of Education and S
uperintendent Dr. Donna Hargens, claiming the district illegally took about $11,000 from his unused sick leave and vacation time when he retired.
David Johnson, who retired June 30 following a district investigation into expenditures of school activity funds under his watch, alleges the board and Hargens violated the Kentucky Wage and Hour law, according to a lawsuit filed this week on his behalf in Jefferson Circuit Court.
The district said in July that nearly $12,000 owed in unauthorized expenses made by Johnson had been paid, but would not say if Johnson repaid the money himself or if the funds were deducted from payroll.
In the lawsuit, Johnson said he "contested in writing" the amount he allegedly owed and "never agreed" he would pay the district the funds they demanded.
Johnson claims Hargens "directed" that his wages be withheld, which is not allowed under state or federal law, according to the suit.
“My client didn't take anything from the district," said Will Walsh, Johnson's attorney. "They took money from him and we will demonstrate they did so wrongly. And we are going to recover the money they took from him."
Walsh said if JCPS has a claim against Johnson, they have to prove it and win a judgement.
"They can't just intercept his wages without his agreement," he said. JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey said the district could not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit is seeking monetary damages and a trial by jury.
Johnson announced his retirement in May in the wake of a JCPS investigative report that accused him of treating himself to luxurious accommodations, meals and car rentals at the expense of PRP High School. The report found a "lack of ethical conduct and gross mismanagement of funds.”
At the time, JCPS accounting director Eddie Muns said the district would not pursue criminal charges but that the expectation was that Johnson would reimburse JCPS before he retired. Johnson, who has previously accused the district of railroading him in its investigation, did not want to comment for this story.
In a previous interview with WDRB, Johnson denied any intentional wrongdoing. He said no tax dollars were spent, he did not feel his expenditures were "excessive" and he had never been told that spending money from the school's activity funds was a problem before, that it was a "common practice" across the district.
The trouble involving Johnson was disclosed in a December report from the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability that found he had failed to properly document more than $202,000 in school expenses. State investigators also said Johnson had used the school's activity fund and credit card for questionable purchases, including a $1,900 stay at an oceanfront condo in Myrtle Beach, S.C. before a 2011 baseball tournament.
The district's investigation, released May 15, found "many examples of financial … misconduct or wrongdoing."
It confirmed the state's concern of Johnson's spending involving two trips to Myrtle Beach, as well as other trips to New Orleans, Chicago and Lexington. The JCPS report also said Johnson and staff "double-dipped" by receiving reimbursement for a federal grant for expenses they did not personally incur.
JCPS investigators also found a deficit of more than $56,000 in PRP's adult-activity fund – money they said was inappropriately used for staff holiday gifts, staff clothing, food for the office and personal trips.
In a March 28 letter to JCPS' attorney, Walsh explained the reasoning behind each of the 14 accusations against Johnson.
Walsh wrote that Johnson "hardly treated himself to luxurious vacations and amenities" as the district alleges. In fact, he wrote, given "the types of accommodations often provided for traveling District employees, the amounts paid for by Johnson “were relatively modest."
Walsh claimed the money Johnson used was from an "adult activity fund" and spent according to the district's rules.
Walsh wrote that "it may be fair" to decide that such expenditures should not be permitted while there is a deficit in the adult activity fund.
"“This, however, has not been the case before and it is not fair to punish or condemn Dave Johnson for doing something he had every reason to think was acceptable heretofore," Walsh wrote.
And Walsh said PRP is not the only school running a deficit in adult activity funds.
Also, while there is a dispute about how big of a deficit the school has in the adult activity account at PRP, "the spending in question ought to be evaluated in light of what a good school PRP has been under Dave Johnson."
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