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Forsyth County school system settles sexual harassment lawsuit

The Forsyth County school system has settled with a former employee in U.S. District Court over allegations of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

Documents recently obtained by the Forsyth County News show that in late June, attorneys representing Forsyth County Schools and a former school system bus driver, Deborah Jolly, reached an agreement to dismiss claims of sex discrimination and harassment, retaliation, and assault and battery.

In a statement to the FCN, Forsyth County Schools Communications Director Jennifer Caracciolo said that the school system’s insurance company made a “nuisance fee settlement in the case,” declining to discuss the nature of the settlement or the alleged charges, citing the confidential nature of the legal agreement.

The case’s complaint paints a picture of repeated incidents of sexually-charged harassment allegedly perpetrated by a school system employee that were reportedly ignored by school system supervisors.

According to the complaint in Deborah Jolly v. Forsyth County School District, in January 2017, Jolly was hired as a bus driver with Forsyth County Schools, operating out of Riverwatch Middle School in Suwanee.

The complaint states that during Jolly’s employment with the school system, another bus driver, Michael Jones, allegedly engaged in inappropriate discussions and conduct directed at Jolly and other drivers.

And in August of 2017, while bus drivers were waiting at Riverwatch for classes to dismiss, the complaint alleges that Jones began “throwing ice at [Jolly], aiming at the neck opening of her dress so as to send the ice down her dress and cleavage.” Jones allegedly refused to stop his actions when asked by Jolly.

When Jolly alerted her supervisor, Hank Gravitt, to the situation and requested that he intervene, the complaint states that Gravitt chose to do nothing.

“[Jolly] was visibly upset, with tears in her eyes, but Defendant Gravitt brushed her off, largely ignoring [Jolly’s] plea to do something,” the complaint alleges.

Jones was allegedly only asked to stop throwing the ice once children were dismissed and walking to their busses “so that the students would not slip on the water.”

The complaint states that during her employment, Jolly was also allegedly sexually harassed by Jones in other ways. Jones allegedly asked Jolly about her sex life, asking if she was “frisky” or “horny” on different occasions.

Wishing to file an official complaint of sexual harassment against Jones, the complaint states that Jolly sent a message via the Forsyth County Schools website asking how she could report a sexual harassment issue.

“The next day after work, an area supervisor, Tammy Webb, approached [Jolly] on her bus. She berated [Jolly] for not coming to see her with her sexual harassment issues,” the complaint states.

After Jolly recounted her issues to Webb, the area supervisor allegedly told Jolly that she had known the defendant for a “long time and that she could not believe he would engage in harassing behavior.”

“Webb further told [Jolly] that if the Defendant Jones said or did anything offensive, she was certain he did not mean anything by it,” the complaint alleges.

After providing a written statement to the supervisor, Jolly was later allegedly told that the “investigation” was over and that Jones had been “talked to.” 

Caracciolo told the FCN that Jolly’s claims were fully investigated by the school system’s transportation and human resources departments. Caracciolo declined to comment on the findings of the investigation.

But the complaint alleges that Forsyth County Schools did not perform a “true” investigation of Jolly’s complaints, did not interview the witnesses identified in the alleged incidents and did not take any steps to separate Jolly and the alleged defendants.

“Instead of taking appropriate steps to determine the facts and extent of [the defendant’s] unlawful conduct, [the Forsyth County School District] did nothing,” the complaint states. “The only result of [Jolly’s] complaint to [the Forsyth County School District] is that she was subjected to retaliation by [the Forsyth County School District], Defendant Jones and Defendant Gravitt.”

The complaint states that after making her complaint, Jolly was approached by both Jones and Gravitt in allegedly “threatening” situations, leading her to avoid the school system’s monthly transportation meetings.

Due to the alleged “persistent harassing and retaliatory conduct,” the complaint states that In January 2018 Jolly resigned from her employment at the school system.

Although the settlement of this lawsuit is confidential, on Wednesday an attorney representing Jolly told the FCN that the facts of the case speak for themselves and she believes that all parties are pleased that the case was resolved.

Caracciolo told the FCN that both Gravitt and Jones are currently employed with Forsyth County Schools, but could not comment on whether any disciplinary measures were taken against them by the school system.