Lowndes County Chancery Court Judge Dorothy Colom has ruled in favor of Lynn Wright, finding that he was improperly terminated in 2010.
Wright, who has since been elected superintendent of the LCSD, was New Hope High School principal from July 1, 2007, until May 17, 2010, when he was terminated by then-Superintendent Mike Halford. Halford told Wright that he was terminated for failure to comply with district purchasing and accounting policies and procedures; assisting an employee in purchasing an item in violation of Mississippi law; and insubordination.
Wright’s termination hinged around his involvement with a purchase made by then-New Hope High School Baseball Coach Stacy Hester, who was also terminated. Hester allegedly entered into a lease-purchase agreement for a John Deer Fairway Mower for $15,000. The lease agreement contained the school district’s federal tax ID number. Neither Halford nor the board approved the purchase of the tractor. Wright was terminated because of his signature on an “incumbency certificate” involved in the purchase; it is the only document that Wright signed.
Wright’s termination was upheld by the board on July 27, 2010. He requested an appeal hearing, and a hearing was held on September 10, 2010. In the appeal hearing Wright argued that the school district did not establish “good cause” for his termination. Mississippi Code Section 37-9-59 states that the district must prove an employee guilty of “incompetence, neglect, immoral conduct, intemperance, brutal treatment of a pupil or other good cause.”
The district claimed that Wright “participated in or knew, or should have known, the actions and consequences of his subordinate. Specially, Mr. Wright assisted Mr. Hester in using the Federal Tax Number of the School District. This is against Policy and State Law.”
In his lawsuit, Wright argued that the district “had no proof that he failed to supervise Hester; nor was there any evidence that he had any involvement in the purchase or lease of the equipment or any involvement with securing the school’s tax exemption number…Wright maintains that in signing the Incumbency Certificate he believed he was certifying that Hester was the New Hope High School baseball coach, which in fact was true.”
In her decision, Colom found that “the Board’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence and was arbitrary and capricious. Substantial evidence means more than a scintilla or a suspicion…There is not a scintilla of evidence that Wright was involved in Hester’s scheme to acquire the equipment. There is not a scintilla of evidence that Wright had any involvement in acquiring the school district’s tax exemption number. Nor was there any evidence that Wright failed to supervise Hester. In fact, the only credible evidence before the board was that Hester mislead Wright to obtain his signature on the ‘Incumbency Certificate.’ All of the Board’s findings regarding Wright’s involvement in and knowledge of the purchase of the lawnmower are based solely on suspicion. Thus, the Court finds that the actions of the Board in terminating Wright were not supported by substantial evidence and was arbitrary or capricious.”
Colom’s decision was entered on May 22. The issue of back pay and/or remedies for Wright was not addressed.