A McDowell Early College teacher has lost his appeal on lawsuit claims he filed against former and current school board members and educators.

And, the defendants are still seeking financial retribution for legal fees.

Early College teacher Jeff Penley filed a suit in 2014 against former superintendent Gerri Martin, former principal and current Director of Student Services Natalie Gouge, former state representative Robert “Mitch” Gillespie and attorney Russell Neighbors. He claimed he was targeted for dismissal from McDowell High School because of his involvement in Democratic campaigning against Gillespie.

But the defendants argued that Penley was disciplined in 2013 for “engaging in inappropriate behavior with students.”

In 2016, a judge in the U.S. District Court dismissed all of Penley’s claims citing, “no genuine factual issue for trial and that no rational jury could find.” Penley appealed the dismissal.

This latest decision, which came down from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on November 28, is upholding the verdict from the U.S. District Court saying, “Appellant has not put forward evidence beyond mere speculation in support of his claims…Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the district court.” To read the decision in full, a copy is available online with this story at www.mcdowellnews.com.

Now, the defendants in the case have filed a motion for monies lost during the legal process.

The motion filed on December 1 states Gouge and Neighbors are requesting $206,738 in fees and expenses; Martin is requesting $88,525.15 in fees and expenses and Gillespie has requested $33,849.77. A hearing has been set for Tuesday, Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. in Asheville.

“Before further analysis to determine whether the hours and rates charged in this matter are reasonable, the court recognizes that plaintiff, a career school teacher, likely lacks the ability to pay such an amount without being sent into ‘financial ruin’,” the motion reads. “However, while a court should not impost an award that would simply be discharged in bankruptcy, neither can the court allow plaintiff to escape without penalty.”

To read the motion in full, visit www.mcdowellnews.com.

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