Petrilli's civil action stems from her sudden departure from the school following an August 22nd meeting between Silberman, Director Carmen Coleman and a group of parents and community members who presented a 2 1/2 page list of grievances. Actions during a subsequent meeting with Silberman, Coleman and Petrilli took center stage in the jury's deliberations, and based on their decision that Petrilli voluntarily resigned her position, ended the case.
KSN&C reported by Twitter this morning that there was a debate of nearly one hour over jury instructions and the focus was on whether the jury believed Petrilli voluntarily resigned. This turned out to be the critical debate of the day.
Judge James Ishmael argued that if the jury decides Petrilli voluntarily resigned, knowing her options - How is that not a waiver of any claims?
Golden responded that Petrilli had no bargaining power in the matter and was therefore not an equal player. "If you're not the person holding the gun, you don't waive anything," he said.
Again by Twitter, KSN&C reported the argument in real time and reacted to the potential impact of the decision on the case:
- Jury instructions hinge on one question alone.
- "Question #1 Do you believe from the evidence that the plaintiff, Peggy Petrilli, voluntarily resigned from her position as Principal of...
- ...Booker T Washington Academy on August 27, 2007?
- If you answer Yes...you have found for the defendants...FCPS.
- If no...then jury proceeds to 8 pages of instructions on race discrimination, retaliation and whistleblower claims.
- Wow. So the central question of the case becomes THE big question for the jury. If they believe her resignation as written...it's over.
Following the verdict, both Silberman and Petrilli appeared upbeat but neither made themselves available to the press, electing instead to speak through their attorneys. With reporters after the decision, Golden talked about the impact he felt that decision had on the case.
What we’re looking at is the prospect of an appeal, specifically, the very first instruction that was given. It was our argument that there are four elements to a reverse discrimination claim. So it will be for the appellate court to decide whether that first instruction should have been given or not...
We argued against the first instruction that would nullify not only the reverse discrimination claim, but also the retaliation and the whistleblower claim. In other words, our position would be that she could be – even if Peggy voluntarily resigned there could have been some things that occurred that could constitute a whistleblower violation, so violations of the law could have occurred earlier. That was our argument...
It brought three causes of action into one...
I felt like the testimony of the witnesses… came in for us. We respect the jury’s decision. The jury, I’m sure, did its best job and we respect that, but there’s some issues we’ve identified and I think we’re going to move forward with that...
We’re still planning on pursuing this. Melinda Cobb’s case took ten years. I’ve got another ten years left in me so we’ll keep plugging forward...
Obviously we’re disappointed, but we’re in it for the long haul.
KSN&C: Do you think there are any implications for the way principals are evaluated in Fayette County as a result of some of the testimony in this case?
McNeill: No. I think it’s pretty straightforward. We have a jury process. We had citizens in the community come and listen to the evidence. They found that the superintendent did nothing wrong. The district did nothing wrong. That’s how our process works. It’s a sacred system and I don’t have any belief that there are any implications on how the superintendent does [his] job. If anything, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury have confirmed that the way this district was run, and by the individuals who run the district, that they’re doing exactly what they should be doing.
WTVQ’s Michelle Rausch asked about the jury instructions issue.
McNeill: I’m not… going to talk to you very much about that. Everybody looks at the instructions differently. That’s why we have litigation. He’ll make whatever options; and assess that with his client, and pursue those things, and we’ll pursue the things we need to do…
H-L’s Jim Warren asked whether he was worried about his approach with the jury, which basically assumed that nothing happened.
McNeill: I don’t know if I was worried about it. Any time you litigate anything as hard and as long as the parties litigated this case, you’re always concerned. I wouldn’t be a good advocate if I wasn’t concerned. But I have a lot of faith in the jury. That’s the backbone of how we do our business in our society. So I believed that 12 individuals who listened to the evidence and fairly weighed the evidence
would make the right decision.
Warren followed up asking if the amount of jury deliberation time worried him at all, and McNeill said, “No.”
McNeill: If you’ve tried enough cases, you can’t predict…It is their province to take the time they need to go through the evidence and make a decision because after all, you sat through most of the trial. There were lots of exhibits to look at; lots of documents to look at.
KSN&C: I noticed in your close…you stuck very close to the jury instructions. On the other hand, Golden tended to go more toward a jury nullification kind of approach with his close. Do you think that benefited you in being able to focus the jury on the instructions they were going to be faced with in the room?
McNeill: I’m not going to comment on what the opposing counsel’s approach was. And I’m not going to necessarily agree with your characterization of that approach. All I can tell you is that the instructions are the law that the jury is supposed to follow. So, you want to talk about the law. That’s what you need to talk about with the jury...
This from Jim Warren at the Herald-Leader:
Former principal loses lawsuit
A jury ruled against a former Fayette County principal Tuesday in her civil lawsuit against the school district. Jurors deliberated for a little more than 31/2 hours in Peggy Petrilli's case, finding that she resigned voluntarily from the post of principal.
Petrilli didn't make any statement after the verdict was read, but her attorney J. Dale Golden said he will consider an appeal. He expressed dissatisfaction with instruction given the jury. Former Booker T. Washington Academy Principal Peggy Petrilli waited for a bench conference to end during her testimony at Fayette Circuit court on Thursday, July 16, 2009 in Petrilli's racial discrimination lawsuit against the Fayette County Board of Education and Superintendent Stu Silberman.
Golden had argued that the school board and Superintendent Stu Silberman unlawfully forced Petrilli out of her job as principal of Booker T. Washington Academy in 2007.
Meanwhile, school board attorney John McNeil maintained that Petrilli resigned voluntarily, and he rejected Petrilli's contention that there was an organized "reverse discrimination" campaign by parents to force her out.
WTVQ ran their story tonight at 6, but it hasn't shown up on their website yet. Here are their previous stories.
1. Superintendent Defended in Petrilli Case ... problems she was having with the way Peggy Petrilli was handing the staffing and care of special needs students at Booker T. Washington. She sad Petrilli did not return calls to concerned parents.
2. Former Principal’s Resignation in Question A former Fayette County School principal claims she was forced out of her job because of her race. She sued in civil court, and today, she faced the school system’s attorneys.
3. Ex-Principal Testifies in Lawsuit Case A former Fayette County school principal tells a jury the school board and superintendent unlawfully forced her out of her job. Peggy Petrilli testified that in spite of double digit academic gains ...
4. Ex-Principal Lawsuit Trial Starts ...case of Peggy Petrilli versus Stu Silberman and the Fayette County Board of Education. Peggy Petrilli resigned two years ago she was the principal of Booker T. Washington She claims she was told by ...