Eaglesmith sues school districtDelaine Fragnoli Managing Editor 2/16/2011
Wife, others join in allegations of discrimination
J.C. Eaglesmith, a teacher at the Plumas County Community School and former Quincy High School basketball coach, has filed suit in federal court against Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) and Plumas County Office of Education (PCOE) and a number of administrators alleging he was discriminated against, harassed and retaliated against because of his race, national origin and exercise of First Amendment and other protected rights.
Eaglesmith is joined in the suit by his wife Ramona Eaglesmith; son Justus Eaglesmith; and Quincy High School (QHS) staff members Eileen Cox and Bruce Barnes.
The suit names Jeff Ray, QHS vice principal; Sue Segura, QHS principal; Bruce Williams, assistant superintendent/personnel director and human resources officer; Terry Oestreich, program director for alternative education; Tori Willits, principal of Taylorsville Elementary School and director of special education; Glenn Harris, superintendent; Yvonne Bales, deputy superintendent; and the board of trustees for PCOE/PUSD.
The plaintiffs are asking for lost wages, earnings and benefits; interest on damages; compensatory and punitive damages; attorney’s fees and costs of the suit.
According to court papers, Eaglesmith is a Native American of Shawnee/Muskokee-Creek and French/Swiss descent. Ramona Eaglesmith is of Native American and African American descent.
Among his allegations, Eaglesmith says Ray, with the knowledge and support of Segura, Williams and Harris, discriminated against, harassed and retaliated against him to undermine his authority as head basketball coach and drive him from the sports program.
Eaglesmith says he was barred from the Coaches Commons so that he did not have access to the locker room and office space available to other coaches. His son, who served as ball boy, was barred from the locker room and PE office.
He claims he was accused of unauthorized entry to an unspecified restricted area and theft of unspecified items.
He further alleges administrators encouraged, condoned and ratified numerous acts of insubordination by junior varsity and assistant basketball coaches.
Eaglesmith says Segura also tried to harass him into leaving his coaching job. He says she singled him out to complete paperwork not required of other coaches. She also, he claims, evaluated him but no other coach. He calls her evaluation “incomplete, inaccurate, untimely” and out of step with evaluation procedures.
Eaglesmith says Williams disciplined him based on a false parent complaint. He says Williams responded to his complaints of harassment by calling him “a big scary Indian.”
Different versions of the incident provoking the complaint — Eaglesmith allegedly drove student athletes to the Bay Area in a personal vehicle that did not have enough seat belts — were articulated during the public comment portion of the December board of trustees meeting.
The former coach accuses Oestreich and Willits of demanding that he remove tinted prescription bifocals and a visor cap, despite documentation that he needs them for a photosensitivity condition. The cap also contains symbols from his spiritual tradition. He says the two women disciplined him for violating an “alleged but non-existent dress code.” (During last Tuesday’s board meeting, during an information report on board policies, including one on personnel dress and grooming, Superintendent Harris told the board the district did not currently have a dress policy for employees.)
Eaglesmith says Oestreich ignored his and his union representative’s complaints about Bales’ “hate truck,” which he says created a hostile work environment for him.
He alleges that Harris gathered administrators throughout Plumas County to “circle the wagons” to protect Bales against criticism for parking the truck, decorated with numerous offensive slogans and images, on district property.
Ramona Eaglesmith alleges Segura threatened to disqualify students from the cheerleading squad if they took private dance lessons from her, at the studio owned by Eileen Cox.
For her part, Cox claims that she was harassed and retaliated against for supporting the Eaglesmiths. She says Segura eliminated her workspace, removed her belongings and placed them in storage, destroyed her materials and denied her access to a computer and restrooms. The net result, says Cox, was that she was forced to resign from two positions, and Segura scrapped a program Cox had developed for her co-workers.
Counselor Bruce Barnes says he was likewise harassed for his support of the Eaglesmiths. He says Segura initiated disciplinary investigations and actions against him for violating non-existent policies, removed him from his counseling assignment at QHS while he was on stress leave and denied him a new assignment.
Willits is accused of humiliating Justus Eaglesmith for placing his left hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance at Taylorsville Elementary School.
Superintendent Harris said he could not comment on the specifics of the case. He did, however, reiterate the district’s obligation to “protect the rights of all employees.”
He said good things happen when issues arise that “require self-analysis.” He said he was grateful for the opportunity to ask, “How can we improve as an organization?”
Harris also pointed to recent efforts to “better equip all administrators with knowledge and a set of skills.” He was referring to discussion at last week’s board meeting about sensitivity training for management and staff and a Teaching Tolerance curriculum for students.
Harris recommended the district use online modules by a company called emTRAIN, starting with all site administrators.
Participation in the training would be optional for board members. Most of the board signaled an interest in the training, except Brad Baker, who quipped, “Someone needs to be politically incorrect.”
Jeff Cunan, legal advisor to principal Sue Segura and vice president Jeff Ray, issued a statement Feb. 10, in which he called them “one of the best principal/vice principal teams Quincy High School has ever seen.
“They are both deeply offended by the Eaglesmith allegations, and they flatly deny all those that are directed at them. We intend to use every legal means at our disposal to preserve the well-deserved professional reputations of both Sue and Jeff. They will accept no settlement whatsoever short of complete exoneration.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Dan Siegel of Siegel and Yee in Oakland, the same firm that currently represents Paul Thein, former athletic director and vice president of Student Services, in his ongoing lawsuits against Feather River College.