A jury in a federal courtroom needed just over an hour last week to find in favor of Gulf District Schools in a lawsuit brought by a former principal at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

A jury in a federal courtroom needed just over an hour last week to find in favor of Gulf District Schools in a lawsuit brought by a former principal at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

Following a three-day trial the jury denied all claims from Jeremy Knapp that the district violated anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws leading up to and after his termination as principal at Port St. Joe High.

“Though I viewed (Knapp’s ) claims as very petty, it could have quickly become a runaway train as far as damages if the jury had returned a verdict in his favor,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton, who lauded the work of the district’s attorneys in the case.

“Our lawyers were with us every step along the way and literally prepared a water-tight case,” Norton said.

Knapp claimed his contract was not renewed due to his need to undergo multiple back surgeries and the district spread negative reviews of his performance to potential employers.

Knapp was hired by former Superintendent of Schools Tim Wilder to the position in Port St. Joe in July 2011.

In October of that year, Knapp had surgery for a herniated disc in his back, returning to work a week later, according to the lawsuit.

Knapp had additional surgeries between November 2013 and April 2014 and, according to district officials, took a leave of absence in April 2014.

According to Knapp’s lawsuit, he met with current Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton in April 2014 to discuss a timeline for his medical leave when Norton informed Knapp his contract would not be renewed.

All district administrators are hired on a year-to-year contracts.

According to Knapp’s lawsuit, Norton said the non-renewal was based on Knapp’s medical history, not job performance.

Duane McFarland, a former principal at the school before moving to the district offices, returned to the high school and continued as principal until the current school year.

Knapp alleged in his lawsuit that despite accolades while working at Port St. Joe High, the district was also providing negative references by telling possible employers “they would not discuss Knapp due to pending litigation.”

The district’s actions, Knapp argued in his lawsuit, violated disability discrimination and disability retaliation laws.

Knapp filed the lawsuit in federal court in January 2016.

Knapp was seeking unspecified damages.

The district was assisted in its defense by risk management officials from the Panhandle Education Consortium, Norton noted, naming the team of attorneys James Dean and Cameron Carstens along with paralegal Jennifer Skipper.

“I have never had the privilege of working with a more competent, professional and formidable legal team,” Norton said. “(The outcome of the trial) was a great victory not only for our county, but for the PAEC Consortium.”

Norton went on to advise his fellow superintendents not to wade into risk management issues on their own without assistance from PAEC.

“It is a really big deal,” Norton said.