By Michel Wetzel
For the applicant
The fired Hartselle High School softball coach, while still employed at Hartselle High School, set up a hidden camera in his office and watched his principal open his desk and filing cabinet from a distance before find and remove the camera.
Christy Ferguson was fired as a coach at Hartselle High, but retained her job as a college physical education teacher until her resignation two weeks ago and her job as softball coach at Danville High and ninth grade biology teacher.
She had been employed by Hartselle City Schools for 23 years.
In an administrative complaint, Ferguson claims that although she was told she was fired from her coaching duties because she disclosed to team members that a softball player had potentially been exposed to COVID -19, the real reason was his longstanding advocacy for girls’ sports programs in Hartselle town schools.
Woody Sanderson, a schools attorney for the town of Hartselle, said Ferguson’s installation of the surveillance camera violated school policy and that Hartselle Junior High principal Rocky Smith was within his rights to search the office as part of an investigation.
Smith declined to comment, referring questions to Sanderson.
Ferguson’s attorney, Jackie Graham, said the camera was installed for his client’s protection.
“We were sure the guy was going to plant something in his office,” Graham said last week. “I mean, we were sure. He walked in and searched his office. Then he took his garbage to the central office, and they searched his garbage.
“We were like, we have to do something here because the next thing they’re going to do is (plant something incriminating). That was the concern. »
Sanderson said school policy specifies when surveillance cameras can be used.
“Without the principal’s consent or knowledge, it was a violation of school policy,” Sanderson said. “There is a policy on installing surveillance. He had not been made aware of his installation of a surveillance camera. This happened after school was over and all the teachers had to hand over the keys to their desks, which she didn’t. He had been asked to do so.
Sanderson quoted the policy as follows: “The Superintendent shall be notified of any extraordinary or special action that may be proposed in anticipation of or in response to any unusual security threat or risk – for example, unusual surveillance or assignment of additional security personnel etc.”
Sanderson said the camera was returned to Ferguson when she resigned and collected her other personal effects.
“He has the right to go into offices,” Sanderson said. “He was properly engaged in an investigation which he had the authority to undertake.”
Sanderson declined to describe the nature of the investigation. “I can’t speak to the nature of this investigation or what’s going to happen from now on in relation to this,” he said.
The Decatur Daily reviewed a series of four short videos dated June 7-9, in which the clock’s surveillance camera showed Smith and a female employee entering Ferguson’s office and going through desk drawers and files. . In one video, a third person – identified by Graham as a locksmith – appears to be opening locked drawers in Ferguson’s office. The final video shows Smith staring at the camera before it was pointed at a wall and then turned off.
On June 9, Ferguson filed an incident report with the Hartselle Police Department, noting the removal of the hidden camera and connected Wi-Fi device.
According to Lt. Alan McDearmond’s account, he informed her that it did not appear to be a criminal matter. He then contacted Ferguson’s attorney, who “said she understood that no crime had occurred at this point, but wanted the incident documented and forwarded to the superintendent.”
Hartselle City Schools said the removal of the camera was appropriate.
“She alleged that a camera she surreptitiously placed in her office was removed by the manager,” Sanderson said. “It happened after school was over. It was an office of the school system. It had been discovered that there had been a surveillance camera that she had installed without anyone’s permission or consent in her office. The principal took it off and put it in his office.
In a complaint filed May 26 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Ferguson alleges that she was fired on April 13 as a softball coach at Hartselle High in “retaliation for my years advocacy for girls’ sports programs in schools in the town of Hartselle. I have repeatedly expressed my dissatisfaction with the unfairness of the girls’ facilities, fundraising and treatment towards the coaches.
Ferguson said in the EEOC complaint that the reason given for being relieved of her coaching duties by Superintendent Dee Dee Jones was that she violated federal privacy laws “by disclosing to my team that another softball player was in quarantine for having contact with a family member who may have had COVID-19 She alleges male coaches notified parents and players of COVID-19 cases without penalty .
“I was singled out (even though) the disclosure was not inappropriate and the child’s parents did not complain,” she wrote, and she said Jones’ allegations about privacy law violations “are a ruse to get me out of their hair for what they deem to be a legitimate reason.
In her complaint to the EEOC, Ferguson said the school system frequently violates the Title IX Act of 1972, which provides guidelines for, among other things, equal access to athletic programs for women.
She said the Hartselle girls’ softball program had inferior opportunities and facilities and less funding than boys’ athletic programs.
“Baseball is able to pay an assistant coach $13,000 a year to maintain the baseball practice field, whereas I, as a former softball coach, had to rely on the janitor to mow my field or pay out of my own pocket to have the grounds maintained. .”
She said the system’s baseball and softball programs participated in an annual joint fundraising program that began in 2003, the proceeds of which, about $50,000, are split 50/50. She said when she was hired to coach softball in 2012, the split was 70% baseball and 30% softball.
“Then in the fall of 2018, the softball team was taken out of fundraising, and it was suggested by (Jones) that softball do its own fundraising,” Ferguson said in the lawsuit. ‘EEOC. She said baseball had its own turf and softball had to share its turf with the city’s youth softball league.
She said her team’s training ground would flood when it rained and the school system had not made improvements to alleviate the problem.
She also wrote in the complaint that Jones did nothing to limit what Ferguson said was harassment by Smith. She said Smith accused her of not having a “working” physical education program for girls, insubordination, losing control of her class and having inadequate lesson plans.
Two male football coaches, she said, were free to “run their course however they wanted”.
Ferguson also alleged in the complaint that Smith and Jones searched through the trash in his office in late April. She said she asked Smith to return a personal paper that had been thrown away, and after going to the central office, he returned it. “It is apparent that he and Dr. Dee Dee Jones had been scouring my trash cans for evidence against me,” she wrote.
In the administrative complaint, Ferguson requests that the EEOC allow him to file a discrimination and harassment complaint in court.
“She suffered emotional distress and her civil rights were violated,” Graham said. “We are not backing down from this.”
Jones did not respond to requests for comment.