GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) – A tentative jury trial date has been set for a federal lawsuit against the George County School District filed by its former superintendent.
The lawsuit, filed by Pam Touchard, alleges the district’s board of education discriminated against her by denying her any employment opportunity after her term as superintendent ended and other retaliation after she reported staff-sanctioned cheating to the state.
In a Nov. 15 conference, Magistrate Judge Robert Myers set a trial date for the November 2023 court term of the U.S. District Court- Southern District of Mississippi.
Court documents estimate the trial to last five to seven days with 25 to 30 estimated witnesses, including four experts, to be called.
Discovery, the exchange of information between Touchard and GCSD about the witnesses and evidence they’ll present at trial, must be completed by May 3.
The parties could settle before it reaches the jury trial. A settlement conference is scheduled to begin on Aug. 30.
It is unclear how much the district is paying for its defense in the lawsuit.
Ridgeland-based attorneys Allison Fry and Steven Lacey have represented the district since the suit was filed in May 2021. School board attorney Cherie Wade, of Pascagoula, joined the defense earlier this month.
In response to a September public records request filed by WKRG seeking a legal services agreement with Lacey and Fry, Wade said the district “does not have any such records, as it does not have a contract for services with those attorneys.”
Wade’s rate for representing the district since August is $250 per hour. The previous school board attorney rate was $150 per hour.
Touchard was elected superintendent in 2015 and held the position through the end of 2019. She was the county’s last elected superintendent.
The lawsuit alleges Touchard found evidence in May 2019 that high-performing high school students had been recruited to take state tests for other students that had a higher likelihood of failing.
When she reported the evidence to the state department of education, Touchard claims the school board hired an assistant superintendent to oversee operations at the high school and prevent Touchard from continuing an investigation.
Through alleged threats and reassigning her duties and responsibilities to other staff, Touchard is seeking a judgment that finds the school board violated her First Amendment rights by retaliating against her after she used her freedom of speech to report the alleged cheating to the state.
Touchard further claims she has been repeatedly denied employment to teach in the district as retaliation after her elected term in office finished. Before becoming superintendent, she was a kindergarten teacher for 15 years.
The lawsuit also alleges the superintendent’s pay was decreased by the board between the time of Touchard’s election in Nov. 2015 and when she took office in Jan. 2016, but was raised when Whitney took office. Touchard made $94,101 per year. Whitney’s current salary is $116,500.
The school district’s motion to dismiss the case argued that Touchard had no First Amendment protections while performing her job as a public employee. Judge Taylor McNeel denied the motion in federal court Sept. 15, finding that her speech was protected as an elected official, not an employee at the school board’s hiring discretion.
A separate argument that Touchard was denied her 14th Amendment right by being denied equal protection under the law was dismissed.