District denies separate allegations made by Wy’east teacher Eric Dodge and Cora Haynes, a former special education teacher at the 49th Street Academy
The Evergreen School District has officially denied allegations made by two teachers, one current and one former, in separate lawsuits filed against the district earlier this year.
Last month, Clark County Today reported the lawsuits that were filed by Eric Dodge, a teacher at Wy’east Middle School, and Cora Haynes, a former teacher at the 49th Street Academy. Earlier this month, the district filed its responses to each lawsuit.
Eric Dodge lawsuit
Dodge is a long-time Washougal resident who was entering his 17th year as a teacher in the Evergreen School District last fall. On March 11, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the district and two individuals (Wy’east Principal Caroline Garrett and Human Resources Director Janae Gomes), claiming violations of his constitutional right to freedom of speech.
Dodge was scheduled to begin an assignment at Wy’east Middle School entering the 2019-2020 school year before he clashed with Garrett over his possession of a “Make America Great Again’’ (MAGA) hat, which has become a well-known symbol for supporters of President Donald Trump.
In his complaint, Dodge claimed that Garrett described him as a “racist,’’ “bigot,’’ “homophobe,’’ “liar’’ and “hateful person.’’ He was later placed on leave from his teaching position and has not since returned to work.
On Sept. 3, 2019, Evergreen Public Schools initiated an investigation into the conflict between Garrett and Dodge, contracting with Clear Risk Solutions to complete a third-party report. On Oct. 1, 2019, the district sent Dodge a letter outlining the results of the investigation, stating “based on the state statute and on the District’s policies, it has thus determined that an act of discrimination, harassment, intimidation and bullying did not occur.’’
Prior to filing its official response to Dodge’s lawsuit on April 7, the district had declined to comment on Dodge’s complaint. In the response to the court, the district stated the following:
- 1. Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted
- 2. Discovery may reveal that Plaintiff failed to mitigate his damages, if any.
- 3. Discovery may reveal that Plaintiff’s damages, if any, may have been caused by others.
- 4. Plaintiff’s claims are legally frivolous.
- 5. Plaintiff failed to exhaust available administrative remedies.
- 6. Defendant Jenae Gomes at all times acted in good faith and her actions were objectively and subjectively reasonable, entitling her to qualified immunity.
Dodge’s attorney, Michael Estok, was undeterred by the district’s response.
“The answer doesn’t say much of substance; the district merely states that it lacks sufficient information to many of Eric’s key allegations,’’ Estok told Clark County Today. “The case will be moving into discovery soon.’’
Garrett left her position as principal at Wy’east Middle School earlier this year. She entered into a separation agreement with the district that was signed on Dec. 20, 2019 and became effective on April 2, 2020.
The agreement called for Garrett to submit a letter of resignation effective April 2. She then began a leave of absence through June 30, 2020, during which she received a lump sum payment equal to her current compensation through that date (less normal payroll deductions). The agreement also called for a lump sum payment to cover the amount of employer premiums she is required to pay to obtain health care benefits through COBRA until June 30.
By signing the agreement, Garrett also waived any right or claim of reinstatement to any employment with the district and she agreed to make no claim against the district and not to apply for any employment in the future.
Cora Haynes lawsuit
Haynes claims in her lawsuit that while she was employed at the district’s 49th Street Academy between 2016-2019, she “experienced race-based workplace hostility and discriminatory treatment from white staff and administration that grew in frequency and severity over her three years at 49th Street until her unlawful termination.’’
The lawsuit, filed in Clark County Superior Court, alleges that Haynes was treated “differently than her non-Black coworkers, creating and maintaining a hostile work environment, retaliating against her for complaining about and opposing discrimination in the workplace, and terminating her employment.’’
Haynes is seeking economic and emotional distress damages and equitable relief.
In its response, the Evergreen School District stated the following:
- 1. Plaintiff’s claims, in whole or in part, are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
- 2. Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
- 3. Discovery may reveal that Plaintiff has failed to mitigate her damages, if any.
Haynes’ attorney, Luke Laughlin, told Clark County Today that a scheduling conference has been scheduled for the court in August.
“Until then, we will be engaging in the discovery process (exchange of evidence back and forth),’’ Laughlin wrote in an email. “At the scheduling conference we’ll set future court dates. If we can’t resolve the matter through negotiations, we go to trial.
“It is unfortunate, yet not surprising, that the school district denies the allegations,’’ Laughlin said. “The way Ms. Haynes was treated was extremely harmful, as the allegations in the complaint show. We hope that the school district decides to be accountable, so that these issues are fixed to ensure no other people suffer similar harm.”