Former State Department of Education employee alleges wrongful t - Montgomery Alabama news.

Former State Dept. of Education employee alleges wrongful termination

Posted by Samuel King - bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - A former state Department of Education employee says she was fired because she spoke out about alleged unethical conduct within the department.  Annette Bohannon questioned the criteria used in awarding federal grants to certain organizations, and whether they were the most deserving.  She filed a federal lawsuit over her firing.

She worked for the Department of Education in a section dealing with competitive federal education grants.  She said she spoke out in August 2008, because a Bessemer-based group named "Better Basics" received a grant.  Bohannon said it scored lower on a scale than other school districts and organizations competing for the money.

"It's public money and I expressed that to them," Bohannon said.  "That what we were doing, we had rules, we had regulations, we had state guidelines, and they weren't following those things."

She said after she told her superiors about her concerns, she was later told to cover up wrongdoing related to another grant application.    Bohannon said she was terminated after she refused to do so, even though she had received positive evaluations in the past.

She is now suing Superintendent Dr. Joe Morton, former federal programs director Deann Stone and education administrator Sallye Longshore.  Bohannon's attorneys say her free speech rights were violated.

"She's been greatly damaged by it," said her attorney, Julian McPhillips.  "She lost a job that meant a lot to her."

In court documents, Bohannon says she learned state board member Ethel Hall had put pressure on the department to approve "Better Basics" for a grant.  Reached by phone, Hall said she's never done that.

"Nobody in the Department of Education has ever asked me about Better Basics, nobody," Hall said.

Dr. Morton is scheduled to have his employment evaluation this week.  Hall said she has full confidence in Morton's leadership.

Citing advice from attorneys, a spokesman says the Department of Education would not comment on the lawsuit.  But in depositions obtained by WSFA 12 News, department officials said Bohannon wasn't terminated, but rather not retained.   One reason cited was Bohannon's lack of preparation for a seminar.  They said they were unaware of Bohannon's concerns about the grant process.   Bohannon finds that hard to believe. 

"These people feel like they're untouchable and they're above everybody else," Bohannon said.  "To the point that they can do as they want to, that's what I experienced."

Deann Stone resigned in October amid an investigation into allegations her husband's company may have profited from grant money she was in charge of distributing to school districts across the state.   Stone said she had nothing to do with selecting the systems that received the grants. 

The federal government is investigating the way federal education grants were distributed in the state.  Meanwhile, Bohannon's attorneys say her civil case was supposed to go to trial this month, but it was delayed until next spring at the earliest.


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