Atlanta schools to pay $190,000 in sexual harassment case

A former Atlanta school bus driver who said her supervisor groped her, tried to have sex with her and then recommended her firing will receive a $190,000 settlement from the school district.

The Atlanta Board of Education approved the payout Monday to resolve a federal sexual harassment lawsuit by a bus driver who claimed that her supervisor repeatedly made lewd comments, sexual advances and threats to terminate her at-will employment.

The settlement compensates the driver for the depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome that her lawsuit said she suffered from her hiring in August 2008 until her dismissal in October 2009. “She can move on with her life,” said her attorney, Gary Thomas of Duluth.

The lawsuit alleged that on Sept. 16, 2009, the supervisor exposed himself in a storage room, pinned the driver against a door, grabbed her blouse and tried to force himself on her. She screamed, and he released her, the suit said. A few weeks later, she was fired.

The supervisor’s attorneys, Eric Barton and Hayden Pace, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Phone numbers listed for the supervisor were disconnected.

The AJC is not naming the driver because of the nature of the allegations. The supervisor is not being identified because no charges were filed.

Atlanta Public Schools spokesman Stephen Alford said the supervisor is no longer employed by the school district, but Alford didn’t have information about the settlement.

“There’s an expectation that all of our employees uphold the highest ethical standards,” Alford said. “Anybody who is engaged in any type of unethical behavior, that’s unacceptable.”

The lawsuit also claimed that the supervisor repeatedly commented about the driver’s body and touched her inappropriately. On one occasion, the lawsuit said, the supervisor asked a receptionist to tell the driver to call him while she was driving her afternoon bus route. When she pulled the bus over to make the call, he asked her to go with him to a hotel, the lawsuit said.

The supervisor told the driver she wasn’t like other girls, the suit said. “You are right, I am not like the other girls because I don’t sleep with my supervisor,” her lawsuit said she responded.

The Atlanta school system said the driver was fired because she falsified documents by signing in a co-worker who hadn’t yet arrived to work, according to court documents.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash Jr. in January granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the driver’s employment claim, but he allowed a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim to stand.