By MARINA WATERS
The David Crockett High School football coaching saga isn’t over yet.
On Friday, the school’s suspended head football coach, Gerald Sensabaugh, filed a lawsuit for $5 million against the Washington County Board of Education and Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton. In the filing, Sensabaugh also requested he be awarded attorney’s fees and reinstatement as the Crockett head football coach.
The lawsuit, filed with the U.S. District Court, claims administrators treaded on Sensabaugh’s first and 14th amendment rights and retaliated against the coach after he sounded off on social media. His postings included topics such as inmate labor on school grounds and the condition of the Jonesborough Elementary School facility.
The document says Sensabaugh’s letter of guidance from the administration “contained allegations directed at Coach Sensabaugh’s professional conduct as head football coach, but were merely a pretext by the Board and/or Director Halliburton to cloak their true motive and intention, which was to punish Coach Sensabaugh for exercising his constitutional right to speak out publicly on matters of public concern.”
Sensabaugh was placed on administrative leave for allegedly practicing an injured player, verbal attacks and profanity on Oct. 10. The coach was also interviewed as part of an investigation requested by the Washington County Department of Education. That interview is detailed in 146 pages of audio text in the court documents.
The lawsuit recounts Sensabaugh accepting the coaching job as being “met with great excitement and fanfare by the citizens of Washington County” and that Halliburton “aggressively promoted their ‘splash hiring’ of Coach Sensabaugh to the public, by having Coach Sensabaugh make various public appearances within Washington County to promote the School and its football program.”
The lawsuit claims that Halliburton, who is a defendant in the lawsuit both individually and in her official capacity as the director of schools, attempted to elicit Sensabaugh’s support during a lunch at the Johnson City Country Club in helping her remove two school board members. The lawsuit claims Sensabaugh thought she organized the lunch in order to discuss funds the coach claimed were missing from a football program fundraiser. The document says after the lunch, Sensabaugh “lost complete trust in Director Halliburton.”
The court document claims Sensabaugh has endured damage to his current and future employment opportunities, harm to his reputation and character and weight loss as a result of his emotional stress. Sensabaugh is represented by Phillip E. Fleenor of Duncan, Hatcher, Holland & Fleenor of Chattanooga.