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School district writes large checks to settle suit

  When J.C. Eaglesmith, settled his lawsuit against Plumas Unified School District, he said it wouldn’t take money away from students.

  He was wrong, but he was basing his statement on information he had received from his attorney.

  “It’s not costing children anything,” Eaglesmith said in a statement to this newspaper in April. “It’s all being handled through insurance.”

  A portion of it is being handled by insurance, but the remainder is being paid by the school district.

  The school board authorized checks totaling $425,000 during its Aug. 1 meeting: $245,333 to Eaglesmith; $101,859.80 to Eileen Cox and $77,796.20 to the law firm of Siegel & Yee.

  The school board did not discuss the payouts and approved them along with the rest of the checks written in July during the consent agenda.

  Though Eaglesmith could not be reached for comment by press time, his attorney, Peter Haberfeld of the law firm Siegel & Yee, said that Eaglesmith did not know that the school district would have to pay. Haberfeld said he advised his client that the settlement would be paid by the insurance company.

  Haberfeld said he could not reveal the full payment that his clients received but would say, “I’m very pleased that Eileen and J.C. were pleased with the outcome of the case.”

  Cox and Eaglesmith both retired from the school district at the end of the last school year.

  Since the terms of the settlement had been confidential, this was the first time any amounts were made public.

  When asked if these checks represented the total that the school district would be paying, both Superintendent Micheline Miglis and Assistant Superintendent Yvonne Bales confirmed that it would be limited to this one-time payment.

  “We paid a lump sum,” Miglis said. “This is the district’s contribution. The insurance pays as well.”

  The amount paid by insurance was not available by press time, though according to Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California Newspaper Association, it should be disclosed to the public.

  “All terms included in the settlement agreement must be publicly disclosed — especially any amount the District or its insurer pays out,” Ewert wrote in an e-mail regarding the settlement.

  When asked if the insurance payment would affect the district’s premium, Bales said that it was “too soon to tell,” and explained that the district was part of a large insurance pool and the premiums are tied to the experiences of all of its members.

  Eaglesmith, who is an American Indian, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in January of 2011. The former Quincy High School basketball coach and Quincy Opportunity School teacher, claimed school officials intentionally discriminated against him because of his race and that after complaining about racist incidents to district administrators, he was retaliated against.

  Cox, a former staff member at Quincy High School, claimed she was harassed and retaliated against for supporting the Eaglesmiths.

  Siegel & Yee is an Oakland based law firm that specializes in civil rights cases.

  “I hope in the future that local leadership will make sure that all students and staff are treated equitably,” Haberfeld said.

  Staff writer Laura Beaton contributed to this report.

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