By Michael Wetzel
For the applicant
The Hartselle High School graduated softball coach, while still working at Hartselle High School, set up a hidden camera in his high school desk and remotely watched his principal open his desk and filing cabinet before to find and remove the camera.
Christy Ferguson was fired as a coach from Hartselle High School, but kept her job as a junior high school physical education teacher until her resignation two weeks ago and accepted a softball coaching position. and a ninth grade biology teacher at Danville High School.
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 revealed to team members that a softball player had potentially been exposed to the COVID-19, the real reason was his long-standing advocacy for girls. sports programs in schools in the city of Hartselle.
Woody Sanderson, a lawyer for Hartselle Town Schools, said Ferguson’s installation of the surveillance camera violated school policy and that Hartselle Junior High principal Rocky Smith had the right 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 the protection of his client.
“We were sure the guy was going to crash something in his office,” Graham said last week. “I mean, we were sure of it. 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’ve got to do something here because the next thing they’re going to do is (crash something incriminating). That was the problem. “
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 informed of the installation of a surveillance camera. This happened after leaving school, and all the teachers had to hand over the keys to their desks, which she did not do. He had been asked to do so.
Sanderson cited the policy as saying, “The superintendent should be made aware 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 the posting of personnel. additional security, etc. “
Sanderson said the camera was returned to Ferguson when she resigned and collected her other belongings.
“He has the right to go into the offices,” Sanderson said. “He was properly engaged in an investigation that he had the power to undertake. “
Sanderson declined to describe the nature of the investigation. “I cannot speak to the nature of this investigation or what will happen from now on about it,” he said.
The Decatur Daily reviewed a series of four short videos dated June 7-9, in which the surveillance camera in the clock showed Smith and an employee walking into Ferguson’s office and browsing the desk’s drawers and files. In one video, a third person – identified by Graham as a locksmith – appears to open locked drawers in Ferguson’s office. The final video shows Smith looking at the camera before it is pointed at a wall, then fades away.
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 Lieutenant Alan McDearmond’s account, he told her that it did not appear to be a criminal matter. He then contacted Ferguson’s attorney, who “said she understood there had been no crime committed at this point, but she wanted the incident documented and forwarded to the superintendent.”
Hartselle City Schools said removing the camera was appropriate.
“She alleged that a camera she had surreptitiously placed in her office was removed by the manager,” Sanderson said. “It happened after I left school. It was an office of the school system. It was discovered that there had been a surveillance camera that she had installed without anyone’s permission or consent in her office. The manager took it off and put it in his office.
In a May 26 complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Ferguson alleges that she was fired on April 13 as a softball coach from Hartselle High in “retaliation for my years at defend sports programs for girls in schools in the city of Hartselle. I have repeatedly expressed my dissatisfaction with the unfairness of the facilities for girls, fundraising and treatment of 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 revealing to my team that another softball player was in quarantine for having contact with a family member who may have COVID-19. ”She alleges that male coaches informed parents and players of COVID cases -19 without penalty.
“I was singled out (although) the disclosure was not inappropriate and the child’s parents did not complain,” she wrote, and said Jones’ allegations of Privacy law violations “are a trick to get me out of their hair for what they see as a legitimate reason.
In his complaint to the EEOC, Ferguson said the school system frequently violated Title IX law of 1972, which provides guidelines for, among other things, equal access to sports programs for women.
She said Hartselle’s girls ‘softball program received 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 training ground, whereas I, as a former softball coach, had to rely on the janitor to mow my field or pay out of pocket to maintain the land. . “
She said the system’s baseball and softball programs participated in a joint annual fundraising program that began in 2003 and whose proceeds, about $ 50,000, are shared 50/50. She said that in 2012, when she was hired to coach softball, the split was 70% for baseball and 30% for 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 complaint. ‘EEOC. She said baseball had its own field and softball had to share its field with the city’s youth softball league.
She said her team’s training ground would be flooded when it rained and the school system has not made improvements to alleviate the problem.
She also wrote in the complaint that Jones had done nothing to reduce what Ferguson described as harassment from Smith. She said Smith accused her of not having a “working” physical education program for girls, insubordination, losing control of her classroom and having inadequate lesson plans.
Two male soccer coaches, she said, were free to “run their class however they wanted”.
Ferguson also alleged in the complaint that Smith and Jones searched his office garbage in late April. She said she asked Smith to return a personal paper that had been discarded, and after going to the central office, he returned it. “Obviously he and Dr Dee Dee Jones had been going through my trash cans for evidence against me,” she wrote.
In the administrative complaint, Ferguson asks that the EEOC allow him to bring a discrimination and harassment complaint to the courts.
“She suffered from emotional distress and her civil rights were violated,” Graham said. “We’re not backing down on this.”
Jones did not respond to requests for comment.