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Aug. 7, 2022

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Evergreen district settles harassment suit for more than $800K

By , Columbian Education Reporter

Evergreen Public Schools has agreed to pay $862,500 to Elizabeth Uelmen, a former associate principal, with an out-of-court settlement. Uelmen filed a lawsuit in early 2014, alleging a hostile work environment, gender discrimination and unlawful retaliation.

A trial was scheduled for Aug. 29 in Clark County Superior Court, but both parties agreed to settle out of court.

The district’s risk management provider, Clear Risk Solutions, recommended the settlement amount. It includes attorney fees and other costs, according to a district statement.

“While the district did not agree with the settlement, the district was only obligated to pay a $2,500 deductible,” the statement read.

The complaint

Uelmen said she faced retaliation for reporting impropriety by a fellow associate principal, Tim Dotson, and chronic absenteeism by her male supervisor, Gary Price, who was principal at Cascade Middle School at the time.

According to the complaint for damages, Uelmen reported to district administrators that Dotson was engaged in sexual relationships with two women subordinates at the school. Until then, Uelmen had received positive employee reviews. After she reported Dotson’s behavior, she began receiving negative reviews and eventually was demoted from associate principal to classroom teacher. That resulted in a $33,000 annual salary reduction.

The district conducted internal investigations into the performance of both men.

A district document dated March 22, 2012, cites “reports of sexual harassment and other policy violations” by Dotson and describes Cascade Middle School as “a workplace that was rife with rumors and scandal that severely disrupted the work and educational environment.”

Eventually, the district demoted Price from principal to associate principal. Dotson was eventually terminated.

Uelmen’s attorney, Marty McLean of the Seattle-based firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, said the district seemed to handle employment records for male and female employees differently.

“If you were to request the employment files of Mr. Dotson or Mr. Price, there is nothing about the investigations conducted against them. However, Elizabeth has bad reviews in her employment files,” McLean said.

“This one has some disturbing facts attached to it,” said McLean. “During the deposition, the district representatives were telling us that there were different rules that applied to Beth and her male colleagues.”

He added: “She stayed on as a teacher for the last two to three years and got great reviews from her principal. It is encouraging for me to see someone stand up to this wrongdoing.”

District’s response

The district’s 15-point statement refuted claims made by Uelmen’s attorneys.

“The district denies the claims alleged in Uelmen’s lawsuit. In the suit and in her lawyer’s press release, her lawyers have misrepresented facts and alleged connections, which simply do not exist, between Uelmen’s demotion and what occurred at Cascade.”

The statement said: “The district took decisive remedial action in response to the sexual harassment perpetrated by a colleague at Cascade (he was fired). His paid administrative leave was required by state law, which prohibits a district from firing certificated employees and stopping their pay until after a full investigation and hearing has occurred.”

It added: “The district unequivocally denies retaliation or discrimination occurred. Uelmen was transferred as part of a districtwide reassignment of associate principals; at the time, Uelmen was in agreement because she did not want to be supervised by the current Cascade Middle School principal. After a year in her new position, her performance was judged by her supervisor to be unsatisfactory. In her second year, by another supervisor, she was placed on a performance improvement plan and did not improve.”

The district said Uelmen “was demoted for poor performance. She did not appeal the superintendent’s decision to the board at the time, as was her right.”

After the demotion, Uelmen filed a $4 million tort claim.

The statement said: “Her claim the demotion was retaliatory or discriminatory is wholly without merit.”

The result

Dotson was put on administrative leave for almost 16 months while the district investigated his performance. Eventually, he was terminated.

After conducting an internal investigation regarding Price, district administrators found Price to be “not suited to continue as principal of Cascade Middle School.” The administrators recommended Price “be discharged.”

Price was not terminated, but in 2012-13 he was demoted from principal to associate principal at Mountain View High School. His salary was $114,127, almost $3,000 more than he made as a middle school principal. That bump in pay likely is credited to the state’s salary schedule that gives incremental raises with additional years of service. Price’s salary was $122,075 during the 2015-16 academic year.

Uelmen began her teaching career in 1993. She has been employed by the district since September 2004. She was an associate principal at Cascade Middle School for seven years.

She continued as a teacher with the district for several years, but after the settlement was reached, Uelmen parted ways with the district.

“That’s fairly typical in these kinds of cases,” McLean said. “Both parties would like to end their employment relationship.”

Columbian Education Reporter

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