The Okaloosa County School District agreed in March to pay $500,000 to the family of Tyronne and Lakisha Adams to settle a race discrimination lawsuit the Adamses’ attorney called “unprecedented.”
Attorney Fred Flowers of Tallahassee confirmed the payout for the first time Tuesday. He said the amount was never confidential information.
“We had a big fight about that. That was not a provision,” Flowers said. “If confidential had been a provision, I’m sure we would not have settled this.”
School Board attorney Jeff McInnis said the amount became available for public disclosure in just the past couple days after the settlement check was written and the case was officially dismissed.
The board voted 5-1 in a closed meeting March 17 to approve the settlement recommended by its insurance carrier. Insurance covered $475,000 and the School District paid $25,000, McInnis confirmed.
At that time it was stated the settlement amount would be finalized and available as a public record within 45 days.
The Adamses’ legal complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Pensacola, not only accused about 40 students and teachers at Baker School of harassing their boys with taunts, threats and physical abuse, it further claimed the School District took no meaningful action.
Chief District Judge M. Casey Rodgers ruled prior to the settlement that the case could be taken to trial and that Flowers could argue the School District had failed to protect the two boys, an eighth-grader and a 10th-grader at the time of the alleged harassment.
A case could be made, Rodgers said in her ruling, “as to whether a racially hostile environment existed at Baker” and whether the School District response to the situation “was reasonably calculated to end the racial harassment.”
“The district has offered no evidence to rebut (son) T.A. Jr.‘s testimony that there was nobody to help him get through this situation, or both boys’ testimonies that they feared for their safety as a result of the harassment,” Rodgers wrote. “There is no evidence in the record that the district provided any accommodation for the boys.”
Flowers called the evidence of discrimination he saw at Baker “a throwback to the kind of overt racism we would see in the '40’s and '50’s.”
He said it was clear as preparations were being made to try the case that the boys had been harassed by fellow students and teachers, but proving the School District’s liability was an important step in the history of civil rights litigation.
“Going into the case it seemed almost unwinnable. We had to establish knowledge on the part of the School District,” he said. “This case is so significant. Most discrimination cases are sexual harassment or employer/employee harassment. This is unique in that it was student-on-student discrimination and teacher-on-student discrimination.
“When lawyers do a review of racial discrimination cases, this is the case they will find,” Flowers said. “The case establishes a legal precedent.”