LIVESTREAMING: Lemon v. Williamson County Schools

May 28, 2020

The Tennessee Supreme Court is live-streaming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7x7dDIt7WQ

Melanie Lemon v. Williamson County Schools et. al.– In this case, the plaintiff, Melanie Lemon, brought suit against the school board and three individual administrators after she claimed she was harassed, stalked, and intimidated into resigning from her position as a classroom teacher.  Ms. Lemon filed a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against the administrators and filed claims of wrongful termination under the Teacher Tenure Act (“TTA”), breach of contract, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress against the school board.  The trial court dismissed the claim for wrongful termination and held that because Ms. Lemon resigned from her position, she was not afforded the protections of the TTA, and her theory of constructive discharge was not recognized under Tennessee law.  The trial court also dismissed her claims of negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress on the basis that the school board was immune from suit under the Governmental Tort Liability Act (“GTLA”).  The trial court later granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants as to the claims of breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Ms. Lemon appealed to the Court of Appeals and challenged the dismissal of all five claims.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the claims for negligence, negligent infliction of emotion distress and breach of contract, as well as the claim against the administrators for intentional infliction of emotional distress.  The Court of Appeals, however, reversed the dismissal of Ms. Lemon’s claim for wrongful termination.  In so doing, the Court of Appeals held that, while there is no controlling law in Tennessee regarding constructive discharge, there was nothing that foreclosed the application of that theory in a wrongful termination action under the TTA.  The Tennessee Supreme Court accepted the school board’s application for permission to appeal.  The school board argues that the TTA does not apply to Ms. Lemon because of her resignation and that the theory of constructive discharge is incongruent with the intent of the TTA.  The school board also argues that if the Court were to recognize a claim for constructive discharge under the TTA, Ms. Lemon’s remedy is limited to those enumerated in the statute.  On the other hand, if the Court were to recognize the wrongful termination claim as a common law tort claim, not under the TTA, the school board argues that it is immune from suit under the GTLA.  Ms. Lemon argues that the theory of constructive discharge supports the overall legislative intent of the TTA, and the evidence shows that she was constructively discharged from her position.  Additionally, Ms. Lemon contends that the remedy available to her should not be limited to those enumerated in the TTA because reinstatement is not appropriate under the circumstances, Tennessee case law supports a remedy of compensatory damages, and awarding her a remedy outside of what is listed in the TTA is within the Court’s power.  Ms. Lemon also challenges the dismissal of her original tort claims, which the school board argues were all properly dismissed.  The individual school administrators argue that they are not proper parties to this appeal because Ms. Lemon failed to preserve the issue of the dismissal of her intentional infliction of emotional distress claim on appeal.  Additionally, the administrators argue that they are absolutely immune from suit and, even if the Court were to allow the claim against them, the evidence fails to show the administrators’ conduct was “outrageous.”