The lawsuit filed by Alcovy High School Principal LaQuanda Carpenter against several anonymous bloggers was amended late Friday afternoon to add one person: Newton County School Board District 1 representative Jeff Meadors.
Complaints against Meadors are the same as those against the previously named defendants, including libel per se, libel, slander and actual malice, and the lawsuit requests damages, as well as court costs and attorney fees.
However, Meadors strongly disputed nearly everything in the lawsuit and said in a Friday evening phone interview that he is in fact the one being defamed by being named in the amended lawsuit.
The amended complaint alleges in January 2011, shortly after taking office, Meadors expressed concern that Carpenter's husband Dennis Carpenter, was working in the same school system. It further states after the board addressed the concern by "launching a detailed analysis of the role of Dr. Dennis Carpenter and whether it had any cross over influence involving plaintiff (LaQuanda Carpenter) and her role in NCSS. ...Defendant Meadors agreed that there was no conflict of interest and the matter was closed to the entire board's satisfaction."
According to the lawsuit, the "defamatory blog postings" began shortly after a reprimand of a central office employee. They were initially directed toward Dennis Carpenter. When there was no reaction, the attacks began to focus on LaQuanda Carpenter and AHS, according to the lawsuit.
"Prior to the filing of this action, the blog postings containing defamatory statements began causing the administration at Plaintiff's school to divert resources to defend against the unwarranted and baseless allegations appearing in the blogs on The Newton Citizen website. Prior to the filing of this action, the blog postings began affecting the morale of some of the staff who knew the allegations to be false, but felt powerless to stop the blogs."
It also alleges that Meadors broached topics in a column he writes for The Newton Citizen that were discussed in executive session and were confidential. It further states Meadors made statements he knew to be false and statements against both Carpenters in public, calculated to "injure their reputation, expose them to public hatred, contempt and/or ridicule."
The complaint also says LaQuanda Carpenter believes Meadors created a multitude of blog identities, including MsLoy, MissLoy and KBeet, and that Satan69 is an employee of Meadors, who is the Duel Enrollment Coordinator for Georgia Perimeter College. Another allegation made is Meadors encouraged other people, not just his employee, to post comments and they did so, believing since Meadors told them the information, it was true.
In addition to seeking attorneys fees and court costs, the plaintiff is also seeking punitive damages because, according to the lawsuit, on May 7 a cease and desist letter was served on Meadors and it is alleged that he continued to "post defamatory comments on The Newton Citizen website... using newly created blog identities." No value was placed on the monetary damages sought.
When asked about the allegations and shown the lawsuit, Meadors disputed all of the claims and, in response, laid out a series of complaints against Dennis Carpenter.
Most directly, Meadors said he is neither any of the anonymous posters named in the original lawsuit nor does he know any of the posters.
"I don't know of anybody named Satan who works for me. And I don't know who Amp is, and I haven't been posting under these other names. If she says I have made comments to someone named "newtoncountyparent" I don't know who this is, so how is that possible?" Meadors asked. "She is defaming me through lies.
"I posted two comments after the initial lawsuit came out, but I posted them in my name."
Meadors said as far as he knew a "detailed analysis" was never conducted about whether there was a conflict by Dennis Carpenter being in charge of human resources while wife LaQuanda Carpenter was principal of Alcovy High School.
"Dr. Mathews did email Phil Hartley, the school board attorney, and my best recollection - I don't know of any analysis though - my best recollection was that the message was that he didn't know of anything in the law, but it didn't mean it was the right perception for the public to have," Meadors said Friday.
In addition, Meadors implied that the person leaking executive session comments was in fact Dennis Carpenter, not Meadors.
"I have brought up more than one time to the board that comments I have made in closed session have come back to me from Alcovy High School, and the only other person in the room besides the superintendent was Dennis Carpenter. So, if he wants that out there, this is the time it will be out there," Meadors said.
"(Dennis Carpenter) is not in those sessions anymore. I can't answer as to why that is. It's not appropriate for me to answer. All I can say is the observation is that he is no longer in those sessions," said Meadors, though he acknowledged that not everything in executive session necessarily falls under protected topics of personnel, pending litigation and real estate purchase.
However, Meadors said he has often been asked by Alcovy staff about comments he made in board meetings when those comments were actually made in executive session.
Meadors said he received numerous complaints from staff and faculty at Alcovy before the lawsuit was filed and; therefore, requested that Dennis Carpenter no longer handle human resources.
"I made an argument around February or March to help quiet some of the aggravation coming from Alcovy - because I'm the district rep from Alcovy I get phone calls almost daily, emails, phone calls, complaints - and I said how about we put human resources under Dr. Mathews. There was small support for that; it didn't fly. There's nothing more I can say on that, but there's more to that story," he said. "I said that would help employees think there was no perceived or real conflict (of interest).
"I have had teachers since March and April, more and more since the lawsuit came out, become willing to talk. I have been on the phone with teachers until midnight...after midnight, even school administrators from Alcovy. They would call me after 11 p.m. after a board meeting telling me they have no way out. ‘We can't go to HR,'" Meadors said.
Finally, Meadors did say he believed having Dennis Carpenter in charge of human resources was still causing issues.
"Do I think it is a problem? Yes, I do, when employees are put in this position. We don't see this in any other school," Meadors said.
"I do not report to (Dennis Carpenter). I report to the voters, and the voters call me once a day if not more," he said. "I had another complaint today about that high school and we aren't even in session right now."
Emails were sent to Dennis and LaQuanda Carpenter and Superintendent Gary Mathews. Dennis Carpenter provided a brief response, while Mathews said it was his policy not to comment on personnel matters in the public domain.
"The responses here are not totally accurate and again are being presented in a false light, " Dennis Carpenter said in an email. "As a matter of protocol, policy and law I do not discuss matters presented or discussed in closed session. In addition, I have no knowledge of a formal allegation of a hostile work environment related to me."
A hearing in this case is set for June 19 in the courtroom of Newton County Superior Court Judge Eugene Benton.