LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A longtime JCPS administrator has filed a defamation lawsuit against the district and Superintendent Donna Hargens, claiming he was unfairly removed from his job after he raised concerns about the district's alternative education plan.

Joey Riddle, now an assistant principal at Jefferson County High School, had been an "outstanding and successful administrator" when he was demoted from his position as principal of Buechel Metropolitan High School in June, according to the lawsuit filed Friday in Jefferson Circuit Court.

Riddle, whose demotion caused a $30,000-year cut in salary, is seeking a jury trial, attorney's fees and compensatory and punitive damages. 

A JCPS spokeswoman said the district does not comment on pending lawsuits. 

The lawsuit alleges Riddle was told in February 2015 of a plan to merge Kennedy Metro Middle and Buechel Metro as part of the district's effort to reform alternative education -- a plan he says he told district officials would cause problems because of the "potential dangers of merging middle school students with their older peers."

District officials told Riddle "no one would lose their job in the coming reform" and that the plan was to "maintain Riddle's job as principal of the newly merged school," the lawsuit states.

William Walsh, Riddle's attorney, said after his client spoke out, he was "demoted, removed and regulated to a back office position somewhere else in the alternative schools."

"He was marginalized, sidelined, punished because he raised questions and pointed out there would be a threat to the health and safety of people in this community," Walsh said.

Within weeks of the new school year beginning, the conditions at the newly-named Minor Daniels Academy "became a matter of public controversy," Walsh said.

WDRB News first reported about problems at Minor Daniels on Oct. 12, including incidents of students assaulting teachers and staff members -- in one case locking a teacher in a closet and in another case stealing a teacher's car -- and concerns that students were ransacking local businesses during school hours.

"After media coverage of the violent and unruly behavior of students at the new academy, the new principal told the media this was due to the transition of the school from a 'holding tank for bad kids' to something better," the lawsuit states. "This misrepresented the facts regarding Buechel Metro High as Riddle administered it, and continued to defame him as a professional educator in his community."

In a statement provided to WDRB News, Riddle said he "tossed and turned over whether to sue" in part because he was "truly scared for my livelihood should I pursue any action against them."

"I was forced to accept my demotion and just be happy to still be employed, and I might have remained so but for the events of the last month," Riddle said. "Blatant lies are being told to the public pertaining to the program that I proudly ran at Buechel. I can see this is being done to create a perception that the present disaster is not the fault of the leadership, but the fault of me and my staff."

Riddle said for the last year, he has been "harassed, intimidated and put down by my employer of 23 years."

"I am not going to be blamed for the mess others have created while keeping me out of the planning, and after pushing me aside for warning them of an impending disaster that has now occurred," he said. 

Riddle says he wanted to help and lend his experience with Louisville’s most troubled student population to "ensure that they are educated in a safe, enriching educational setting."

"I was threatened and silenced by Dr. Hargens and the inner circle of JCPS leaders when I tried to do so," Riddle said. "Sadly, as the merged school endures some of the dangers that I attempted to warn them about, JCPS continues to paint a false perception of the school I was the principal of in order to save face and buy time to create remedies for the issues I begged them to prepare for." 

Riddle notes that JCPS is "hemorrhaging talented people."

"I do not want to be the next person forced to leave JCPS for being the person that speaks up on behalf of students and teachers," he said.


Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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