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Former Roane youth center employee sues, alleging poor working conditions, retaliation

LaKishia "Kishia" N. Boyd first filed the lawsuit against Youth Opportunity Investments LLC in Roane County. It's now been transferred to U.S. District Court.

A Roane County woman is suing the operators of a Rockwood treatment center for boys, alleging they retaliated against her when she objected to bad working conditions and staff members having sex with young residents.

LaKishia "Kishia" N. Boyd first filed the lawsuit against Youth Opportunity Investments LLC in Roane County earlier this month. It's now been transferred to U.S. District Court in Knoxville. Owners of the business live outside Tennessee.

Boyd alleges she started working as a youth care specialist in August 2018 at Roane Academy, which provides services for the state, but also agreed to help as a youth counselor when staff members needed a break. 

WBIR has reached out to Youth Opportunity for comment.   

Thirteen months later, Boyd began filing written complaints to academy principals, alleging there wasn't enough staff to handle the work, that existing staff was being overworked and that they weren't getting enough time for meal breaks.

Working conditions and "the incompetence of the facility" were causing extended turmoil on staff, she alleged in a September 2019 memo that's included with her lawsuit. Some employees were called on to handle situations for which they weren't properly trained, she said.

Boyd also described instances when staff members used violence against young residents.

"There have been several incidents where staff has lost control and fired (sic) with no charges filed or publicly humiliated by being put on the front page of the Roane County News with the story being told incorrectly (defamation of character)," one passage of her September 2019 memo states.

She also alleged that staff members were having sex with the underage residents, and she filed a report with the state Department of Children's Services, her lawsuit states. A former staff member backed up her allegations, she alleges.

She complained her employer was retaliating against her for her reports, and she was fired in November 2019.

Credit: Boyd lawsuit
Letter from former employee Jamal Ashley included in Boyd lawsuit.

According to Boyd's lawsuit, she still has a chance to work there.

"(Youth Opportunity) has offered plaintiff a return to work to begin in July 2020, which she intends to undertake with the provision that it is unconditional, the same position as her previous employment, the same rate of pay, and that she will not be subject to further retaliation," the lawsuit states.

In the meantime, she's seeking damages of up to $500,000 in her complaint for lost wages and benefits and punitive damages of up to $500,000.

Roane Academy, according to the Youth Opportunity website, has 56 beds including 36 beds for "intensive services" and 20 beds for a residential psychiatric program.

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It cares for dependent and neglected boys, providing contracted services for the state.

In Tennessee, Youth Opportunity operates youth academies in Cleveland, Mt. Juliet, Memphis, Elizabethton and Lebanon among other places as well as the Davidson County Youth Center.

In November 2019, four boys including two accused of murder, escaped from the center on a Saturday night. They were eventually captured. Four Youth Opportunity employees were suspended, and several were charged.

Youth Opportunity also operates centers in Texas, Florida and Michigan.

Problems occurred at the Roane center before Youth Opportunity's tenure.

In 2015, neighbors and residents complained about youth escapes when it was operated by Omni Visions. A former employee in 2017 filed suit, alleging she was fired after reporting TennCare fraud there as well as that a teen resident had had sex with an employee.