Court date set for Sensabaugh, Washington County schools lawsuit

Jessica Fuller • Updated Mar 16, 2018 at 8:13 AM

Gerald Sensabaugh’s lawsuit against the Washington County school system is scheduled for trial about a year-and-a-half from now, but a U.S. District judge ordered both parties to consider letting a magistrate judge handle the case in an order filed in federal court Thursday.

The trial is scheduled for Sept. 10, 2019, in Knoxville, according to the documents. Along with the court date and instructions for pretrial, U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves ordered that both parties discuss consenting to a magistrate judge’s authority on the matter.

Magistrate judges are appointed by a majority vote of district judges, and function like assistants to district judges. Because a district judge’s docket can easily fill with felony criminal trials due to the right to a speedy trial, magistrate judges can take over cases such as civil disputes to lighten the load for district judges and get an earlier trial for those involved in the case. 

Included in the order is a consent to magistrate judge form, which must be returned within 45 days of the order.

On Friday, the Washington County school board filed a motion to dismiss Sensabaugh’s lawsuit, which alleges the school board and Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton violated his free speech rights when they disciplined him last fall for raising concerns about the school system on social media.

The motion to dismiss the lawsuits states that Sensabaugh’s discipline — suspension with pay — doesn’t count as adverse action against him as it doesn’t affect his wages or benefits, and therefore his constitutional rights weren’t violated by the disciplinary action.

If Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton chose to terminate Sensabaugh, his termination would legally constitute as adverse action against him.

Coincidentally, Sensabaugh’s deadline to respond to an investigative report by attorney Phillip Baker, which recommended Sensabaugh’s termination, was Friday. The report alleged that Sensabaugh engaged in unprofessional, insubordinate, threatening and retaliatory behavior toward supervisors, staff and students while serving as head coach of the school’s football team.

Sensabaugh did not respond to the report.

Halliburton said in a letter to Sensabaugh that if he did not respond to the report, she would make a decision on his employment based on the findings of the Baker report.

Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected] Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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