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Published July 23, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
The Baptiste Group is appealing the suspension of the license for its Chattanooga home for immigrant youth, claiming that the state violated their right to due process in its handling of two reports of sexual abuse occurring at La Casa de Sidney. Their claim accuses the state of prejudice and bias against the company.
The lawsuit was filed by Nashville-based law firm Bass, Berry and Sims in Davidson County Chancery Court against the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services and Commissioner Jennifer Nichols.
The Baptiste Group says in the appeal that the Department did not require them to formulate a plan of action or to create any new policies after the alleged abuse occurred. The group says that, even though it was not required, they worked with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to work towards improving policies anyway.
“The Department never showed any concern with TBG’s operations and, therefore, never engaged TBG in any conversation on changes that TBG needed to make nor made any suggestions on what TBG should be doing,” the appeal states.
Two former employees face charges related to the abuse allegations. Randi Duarte and Florencia Morales are accused in two different incidents involving teenagers who were being housed at the facility.
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The lawsuit claims that the Department initially decided that the original allegation “did not arise to the definition of abuse of neglect” and that Nichols had signed a compliance review notice as “Corrective Action Not Required.”
The state came back and suspended the group’s license on July 1, saying “the health, safety or welfare of the children in the care of the facility imperatively requires such emergency action.”
According to the group’s claims, other agencies in the state have not received the same punishment for similar violations. They believe that the state is only punishing them because they are a minority-owned business. The suit claims that the suspension “was improperly motivated by bias, racial prejudice and the like with respect to the migrant children.”
“While in no way condoning the actions of those terminated former employees or discounting the egregiousness of the allegations, the immediate suspension of operations based on those allegations while not doing the same for other agencies with similar incidents demonstrates bias and prejudice towards TBG,” the appeal states.
The group is asking to have its license reinstated, and they are requesting expenses and attorney’s fees.
Administrative Law Judge Phillip R. Hilliard previously upheld the suspension in a closed hearing. The new lawsuit states that this ruling can be overturned “if a reasonable person would necessarily draw a different conclusion from the record.”
The suit notes that there was no court reporter for the hearing and also says the judge’s decision was “unsupported by evidence that was substantial and material in light of the entire record.”
State Senator Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga questioned the suspension of the license. Gardenhire has a history of pushing for the state to place more focus on the wellbeing of the children when they arrive in Tennessee.
“I’ve been asking everybody all along to just let’s get the facts out there and quit all the politicizing and speech-making and everything,” Gardenhire said. “One thing about a lawsuit – when you have the threat of perjury involved, the courts can determine what the truth is.”
According to Gardenhire, if the lawsuit’s claims are shown to be true in court, the state committee that was commissioned to look into refugee issues is “on the wrong track”.
“If these facts are true, and it’s easy to prove whether they’re true or not true, then I think this administrative law judge and the Department of Children’s Services have some answering to do,” Gardenhire said.
Gardenhire went on to say that the Department of Children’s Services needs to “disprove” the facts in the lawsuit “in order to have credibility.”
About the Author:
Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative
Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com