State to pay $80K to settle lawsuit over coaching program - WSMV News 4

State to pay $80K to settle lawsuit over coaching program

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Taxpayers on the hook for $80,994 to settle a lawsuit over a now-canceled state program that cost more than $300,000 to implement.

A News 4 I-Team investigation uncovered that TRICOR was being sued by one of its own employees for developing an inmate coaching program that was improperly religious.

Employee Joseph Baker sued TRICOR, claiming he was forced to teach religious principles to inmates for the program based on the motivational book by author Michael Burt.

A review of the book, "This Ain’t No Practice Life," contains several referenced to God or the Creator.

While TRICOR’s attorney argued in court that the program contained no religious messages, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger earlier expressed doubt, writing that “the court cannot overlook the improper religious aspects that are present throughout the coaching program.”

Gayle Jordan, an attorney who is a member of the organization “Recovery from Religion,” consulted on the case and told the News 4 I-Team in April that the program sent a clear message.

“That's the government endorsing, and being excessively entangled, in a religion,” Jordan said.

In the settlement agreement, signed by Gov. Bill Haslam, Baker will receive $45,948.15 and his attorney could receive up to $35,000 in fees. Click here to read the settlement.

In an email to the News 4 I-Team, TRICOR CEO David Hart wrote, “Our priority is to provide the tools needed for our program participants to be successful post-release. We will be implementing a new program focusing on societal norms and foundational principles that has been approved by the state attorney general’s office to help achieve our mission."

Tina Sampson, spokeswoman for TRICOR, confirmed that the new program will not include any reference to Burt’s book.

The settlement also states that Baker will keep his job with TRICOR until June 2018.

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