BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A judge has ruled that a lawsuit filed against the superintendent of Chilton County Schools can move forward.
In an order issued less than an hour after a hearing on the matter ended, Judge Sibley Reynolds ruled that a legal doctrine known as sovereign immunity did not require that the lawsuit be dismissed.
The suit against Superintendent Jason Griffin, filed by the Alabama Education Association on behalf of two school system employees, claims that Griffin’s demands that the employees pay thousands to correct the payroll errors amount to an “illegal act.”
Christie Payne, a lunchroom manager at Verbena High School represented in the lawsuit, was told she owes $23,465.40, dating back to the 2016-2017 school year.
Shellie Smith, the wife of school board member Chris Smith, is the other employee represented in the suit. She said that opening the letter from the school system demanding payments was “sickening.” The letter sent to Smith and signed by the superintendent demanded that the employee of 19 years repay over $33,000 they said she was overcompensated as a result of repeated payroll errors.
While Payne and Smith are the only employees named in the lawsuit, CBS 42 has spoken to others who received similar letters from the school system. One of them, a bus driver who’s worked for the district for nearly two decades, said he doesn’t plan to pay the money or respond to the district in any way.
“It’s their mistake,” he said. “Why do the little people have to pay for it?”
Payne and Smith said they are happy with today’s decision but that it’s only the first step in correcting a mistake that should never have been made.
“I’m just ready for this to be over,” Smith said. “I want Mr. Griffin to be held accountable.”
The decision to allow the lawsuit to move forward demonstrates that the superintendent is not “king,” a lawyer for Payne and Smith said outside the Chilton County Courthouse.
“Superintendent Jason Griffin is not the king,” he said. “He is not the king of Chilton County, and he’s not the king of the State of Alabama.”
CBS 42 reached out to Superintendent Griffin for comment but has not yet heard back.