FORT WORTH -- A former Fort Worth school district employee who said she was fired after telling administrators about problems with a new payroll system will return to work and receive $135,000 to settle a whistle-blower lawsuit.
Aracely Chavez said she raised the problems in 2008. The January 2009 launch of the system was marred by a series of errors, including at least $1.5 million in overpayments to employees and former staffers.
School trustees agreed Tuesday to settle the lawsuit, filed in January 2010 in 162nd District Court in Dallas County. The settlement must be approved by a judge, said Bertha Whatley, the Fort Worth district's chief legal counsel.
"We are not admitting any guilt," Whatley said. "We are expressly denying that we violated any laws or engaged in any illegal or improper activity. This is a compromise settlement to avoid the expense of trial."
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Chavez said she feels vindicated.
"I wanted to prove that I wasn't a bad employee," Chavez said Thursday. "It was that I reported waste and mismanagement."
The lawsuit alleged that Fort Worth school officials were told in fall 2008 that the new Munis payroll system was not ready to go live because data had not been properly converted.
An internal audit released in January 2010 noted that the district lacked proper procedures and training that led to errors in the payroll conversion. The audit found that some employee groups were paid at a daily rate for each hour of work instead of at the hourly rate; that some former employees received paychecks although they had not been with the district for nearly two years; and that some employees were not paid.
After a district reorganization in 2010, the payroll is being handled by the business and finance division and the system is "operating well," said Clint Bond, a district spokesman.
Chavez, of Fort Worth, said she will begin work July 1 as director of human capital management operations, performing many of the duties that she had before she was terminated. Her salary will be $92,000.
When she left the district, she was earning $90,000 as an analyst in the now-defunct enterprise and planning department.
She is now a coordinator for workforce services at Tarrant County College. She said she is looking forward to returning to the school district, where she worked for nine years, and seeing her colleagues again.
"I don't believe in holding grudges," Chavez said. "I know that forgiveness is paramount to living correctly, but, the truth be known, it was just a waste that didn't have to happen."
The school board voted 6-0 in favor of the settlement, with Trustees Ann Sutherland, Carlos Vasquez and Judy Needham abstaining.
Trustee Christene Moss voted to approve the deal.
"I was in the mediation ... so I voted that way because I felt that it was the right thing to do," Moss said.
Needham said she abstained because she had additional information about the case, although she declined to be more specific.
"I had an opinion and I was aware of several things and didn't feel like I could do an unbiased look at it," she said. "I always want to be fair and objective going into one of those."
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326