Appeals court rules against Petrilli, former Booker T. principal

court agrees petrilli voluntarily resigned

jwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 12, 2011 

A 2009 Fayette Circuit Court jury decision denying Peggy Petrilli's claim that she was forced out as principal of Lexington's Booker T. Washington Academy should stand, the Kentucky Court of Appeals said Friday.

Petrilli had sued Fayette School Superintendent Stu Silberman and the school district, alleging that district officials forced her to quit in order to appease a group of African-American parents who wanted a black principal at Booker T. She claimed she was a victim of reverse discrimination.

But after a trial before Fayette Circuit Judge James Ishmael, a jury found in July 2009 that Petrilli had resigned her post voluntarily. In its opinion Friday, the appeals court affirmed that verdict.

A three-member appeals court panel made up of judges James Lambert, Glenn Acree and Kelly Thompson heard the appeal. Acree and Lambert concurred in affirming the lower-court decision. Thompson filed a separate opinion disagreeing with their analysis, but also concurring with the majority opinion.

Petrilli's lead attorney, J. Dale Golden, said later Friday that he will ask the state Supreme Court to review the appellate opinion.

"We are disappointed, but we are not through," Golden said. "We're going to give the Kentucky Supreme Court an opportunity to address this issue."

Petrilli, a 2005 principal of the year, headed the Booker T. Washington Academy from 2005 through the end of the 2007 school year. She resigned in late August 2007 after a contingent of Booker T. Washington parents presented Silberman with a list of complaints about her work performance.

Petrilli later alleged in a lawsuit that she was pressured to quit, as well as making other allegations against the school system. The appeals court, however, dismissed her arguments.

"Because the jury determined that Petrilli voluntarily resigned ... they necessarily determined that she had not suffered an adverse employment action," the court held.

Petrilli's attorneys argued in their appeal that Ishmael made several errors during the circuit court trial, particularly in his jury instructions.

Ishmael instructed jurors that they first had to determine whether Petrilli's resignation was voluntary. When they ultimately concluded that she had resigned voluntarily, Petrilli's other claims essentially became moot.

The appeals court said that "the issue of whether Petrilli voluntarily resigned was a question of fact appropriate for and properly submitted to the jury." It added that Ishmael "properly submitted the question of Petrilli's voluntary or involuntary resignation to the jury and dismissed the remaining claims upon the jury's determination that Petrilli's resignation was, in fact, voluntary."

Golden, however, disagreed with the court's reasoning.

"You can't simply ask, did someone voluntarily resign, because that doesn't tell the jury whether they can look at the circumstances," he said. "The next question is why did she voluntarily resign. That's what we didn't get to in this case."

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.

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