Lawsuit: Sumter superintendent retaliated against principal who reported illegal activity

March 2019

Dr. Torrance Choates
Americus Sumter County School Superintendent.

Americus Sumter County
School Board of Education building.

By Claire Helm


SUMTER COUTY, Ga. — A federal lawsuit alleges racial discrimination, fraudulent reporting, and misuse of school funding by Sumter County’s superintendent — as well as retaliation against the principal who claims she reported the alleged illegal activity.

The lawsuit says that plaintiff Lezley Anderson worked for the Sumter County School District from 2013-2018, serving as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal during that time frame, and that “her performance was exemplary” in these roles.

Around February 2017, the lawsuit says, superintendent Dr. Torrance Choates told Anderson her school was “too white,” that she doesn’t know

Image courtesy: Sumter County School District website www.sumterschools.org

what struggle is because she’s not black, that she needs to keep in mind the hiring of black teachers, and that she needed to fill an assistant principal seat with a black male candidate.

When Anderson replied that she wouldn’t know an applicant’s ethnicity from their application, the lawsuit says, Choates and the director of human resources suggested she find out by asking them to come in for an interview.

Around February 2017, the lawsuit says, superintendent Dr. Torrance Choates told Anderson her school was “too white,” that she doesn’t know what struggle is because she’s not black, that she needs to keep in mind the hiring of black teachers, and that she needed to fill an assistant principal seat with a black male
candidate.

When Anderson replied that she wouldn’t know an applicant’s ethnicity from their application, the lawsuit says, Choates and the director of human resources suggested she find out by asking them to come in for an interview.

According to Anderson’s legal team, when she decided to hire a qualified candidate from India who already worked for the district, Choates asked if she could “even understand what they say?”

The lawsuit also alleges that Choates directed various school administrators and counselors, including Anderson, to fraudulently report information including student enrollment, school program services, attendance records, and records for services provided to special education students — all in an attempt to keep school funding from the state of Georgia and the federal government.

Anderson refused to alter her students’ attendance records and instructed her staff not to do so because it’s illegal, her lawsuit says, and in October 2017 she reported Choates’ instructions to members of the
Sumter County Board of Education.

Around the same time, Anderson also reported the alleged illegal activity to Stephanie Johnson, deputy superintendent of the Georgia Department of Education, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit does not specify if Johnson took any action.

According to Anderson’s lawsuit, Choates also told all Sumter County schools to hold a fundraiser and then deposit 40 percent of what they raised into his “superintendent account” — but Anderson and other principals objected. Aside from the contributions to his “superintendent account,” Choates also allegedly asked each Sumter County school to give gifts for board of education members and sponsorships for a local chamber of commerce dinner.

Anderson’s lawsuit says Choates retaliated against her by giving her the option of resigning or accepting a poor end-of-year evaluation. It says Choates knew about most, “if not all, of the reports and complaints that Dr. Anderson made” both to the district and government, “as well as her opposition to illegal activities.” In the end, Anderson “felt as though she had no choice but to submit her notice for resignation,” her lawsuit says.

According to the lawsuit, Anderson is seeking compensation for the alleged racial discrimination, lost wages and benefits, and coverage of legal fees, among other things.