Richland One denies former employee's allegations in lawsuit - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Richland One denies former employee's allegations in lawsuit

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Richland School District One denies a former employee's claims that she was forced into retirement.

Donna Hammett worked as the Office of Advanced Academic Programs coordinator for the school district. She said in a defamation lawsuit filed in May against the District and Superintendent Percy Mack that she was placed on paid leave April 29 and then forced into retirement. Hammett worked for the school district for more than 35 years, according to court documents.

Court documents explain Hammett's paid leave came after District officials said former secretary Peggy Mattie was forging Hammett's signature on her timesheets to receive overtime compensation that she didn't earn. Mattie received at least $35,000 in compensation dating to 2008, according to a Columbia Police Department report.

Mattie was terminated March 21 from her job with the District. Columbia Police are investigating the case, and no one has been charged. WIS tried to reach Mattie, but has received no response.

In the District's response to Hammett's allegations, it denies that it did not handle personnel matters appropriately and that Mack did not make defaming comments about Hammett to employees at the District. The District also asks for Hammett to present evidence to support her claims of what was said to her about the internal and criminal investigation.

Hammett's lawsuit claimed the District's Chief of Teaching and Learning Regina Thompson said that Mack said, "(Hammett) can say whatever she wants and go down with her." Thompson retracted her statement after Hammett said she wasn't involved in any wrongdoing. It was after that Hammett was asked to put together a list of the duties that would've required Mattie to have overtime.

Later, Hammett was placed on paid leave. It was at that time she said she felt "coerced into doing so because she felt she was being scapegoated," the lawsuit stated. Hammett then turned in her retirement notice to Mack.

Hammett's attorney Lewis Cromer said his client simply made an easy target for the District.

"When it came out, it was embarrassing for the School District, and it cast a pretty bad stigma on Superintendent Mack and others for something like that to happen over a two- or three-year period as it had," Cromer said. "And their payroll folks and accounting folks and whoever else the folks were that were in charge just totally overlooked it. There was no way in the world our client could've known about it because it was her name that was taken and forged to slips that were taken, and they're not numbered or anything."

Cromer told WIS they have enough evidence to win their civil case.

Mack and the District are asking that the case be dismissed and claim they are immune from the suit because of the South Carolina Tort Claims Act. A jury trial is requested in this case and will not appear on a court docket before May 2015, according to the Richland County Clerk of Court's office.

Since Hammett and Mattie are no longer working with the District, Dallas Webb was named acting coordinator of Advanced Academic Programs and Amy McGlohorn was named acting consultant. A temporary employee was hired to fill in as secretary for the program.

Also, Mack retired from the District June 30. The District does not comment on matters regarding litigation.

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