Alabama School Workers Sue Over County's Demand For $55,000

CLANTON, Ala. (AP) — Two school workers filed suit Friday claiming a central Alabama school system is wrongly trying to make them repay more than $55,000 total in salary that administrators claim they weren't due.

Christie Payne, a cafeteria manager at Verbena High School, and Shellie Smith, a career tech teacher, contend they didn't realize they were being paid too much by Chilton County's school system following promotions, and it was the central office's duty to pay them the correct amount. Having to pay back the money now would cause an undue financial burden, their suit claimed.

Superintendent Jason Griffin, who was named in the lawsuit, didn't file an immediate response in court but has publicly defended the repayment demands in the past.

A judge issued an order temporarily blocking the school system from trying to collect the money or firing the workers and scheduled a hearing for May 31.

Payne received a letter from Griffin in April claiming she must repay $23,465 she received in excess pay after being promoted from assistant lunchroom manager to manager during the 2016-2017 school year, according to court documents. Smith received a similar letter demanding $32,948 for pay she received after she went from being a school nurse to teacher in the 2018-2019 academic year.

Both women were mistakenly credited with years of experience they didn't have for the new positions, Griffin wrote. He proposed either lump-sum repayments or payment plans stretching over years.

Both workers deny that they were overpaid and say they shouldn't have to repay anything.

The lawsuit, filed by the Alabama Education Association, contends Griffin acted on his own without going through proper procedures to demand the money. Smith's husband is a member of the Chilton County School Board.