After the Dothan City School board refused to satisfy the former superintendent’s ultimatum, Dr. Phyllis Edwards has filed a federal lawsuit against the school system and governing board seeking $584,000.
Edwards’ Montgomery-based attorney Jacob Fuller filed the civil suit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama on Wednesday, according to court documents.
The complaint states that Edwards was “frequently subject to actions and behavior by certain board members to undermine her authority and sabotage her ability to do her job,” despite being “exemplary” in her role as superintendent and never receiving a negative review by the school board.
The complaint states that in one instance, the board’s vice chairman, who is Brenda Guilford, told Edwards she was “insubordinate” to her, and told other board members the same outside of the meeting.
These actions caused Edwards to submit her “intent to resign” letter on Sept. 8, according to the civil suit.
“Since this was only an ‘intent,’ she did not give any date when she planned to leave her post,” Fuller stated in the complaint. “She had over two and a half years left on her contract. Rather than follow the clear language of the contract, and against the advice of the Plaintiff’s attorney at the time, the Board voted to terminate the Plaintiff s contract just a few days later on Sept. 14, 2020.”
Fuller’s assertion that he first went public with on Jan. 19 is that the school board was in a haste to get rid of Edwards instead of letting her work the 120 days required under the contract. He asserts that Edwards was willing to work the 120 days after she sent her employees and board members her “intent to resign.”
The demand for $584,000 is meant to cover 2 ½ years of salary, benefits, and insurance premiums Fuller asserts that Edwards is entitled to because her Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when she was deprived of future potential earnings.
Edwards notably did not appear virtually or in-person at the Sept. 10 board meeting after sending her resignation letter or at the Sept. 14 special-called meeting where her resignation was accepted and former Chief Operations Officer Dr. Dennis Coe was named acting superintendent in her absence.
Board attorney Kevin Walding previously told the Eagle that Edwards had been working from her Florida home from sometime in March after schools closed due the COVID-19 pandemic until her September resignation—a claim refuted by Fuller. The Eagle has been unable to be independently verify the claim as DCS Public Information Officer Meagan Dorsey denied a request to obtain a copy of Edwards’ attendance records, citing the information is part of a “pending legal matter.”
He also told the Eagle that the board’s position is that Edwards resigned and was paid in full everything she was owed under her contract. He said Edwards sent nothing to the board indicating her willingness to work.
“I think anyone with common sense who read her letter would reach that same conclusion,” Walding said.
Her entire resignation letter can be found here.
School Board Chairman Mike Schmitz deferred comment on the lawsuit Monday afternoon, saying he had not yet had the chance to review the allegations.
Sable Riley is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334.712.7915. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.