Violation of employment contract is part of Chimacum superintendent’s allegation of harassment by school board

Brian Kelly bkelly@ptleader.com
Posted 8/14/20

Chimacum School District Superintendent Richard Thompson’s professional reputation and his constitutional rights were damaged by the “wrongful conduct” of the Chimacum School Board …

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Violation of employment contract is part of Chimacum superintendent’s allegation of harassment by school board

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Chimacum School District Superintendent Richard Thompson’s professional reputation and his constitutional rights were damaged by the “wrongful conduct” of the Chimacum School Board and the district should pay for it, according to a letter that was sent by Thompson’s attorney to Board Chair Kristina Mayer last month.

Thompson’s lawyer is also claiming that the board violated the terms of his employment contract with the district.

The letter from Colleen Kinerk, an attorney with the Kirkland-based law firm of Davidson, Kilpatric & Krislok, prompted the school board last month to launch an investigation into Thompson’s claim of harassment at the hands of the board.

Thompson was placed on paid leave by the school board at its July 22 meeting, which Mayer said was necessary to “promote witness participation in the investigation and alleviate any concern of undue influence.”

And at a special session July 30, the Chimacum School Board unanimously voted to hire David Engle — who retired in 2016 as Port Townsend’s Superintendent of Schools — as acting superintendent of the Chimacum School District.

District officials have been tight-lipped about the accusations raised by Thompson that led to his suspension and the investigation into his claims.

In announcing the claim, Mayer described it as “concerns of discriminatory harassment and defamation by school board members.”

The July 16 letter to the school board chair by Kinerk, Thompson’s attorney, sheds more light on the accusations made by Chimacum School’s top executive.

In the letter, Kinerk said Thompson had given her “a detailed narrative including documents that demonstrate a sustained and wrongful course of mistreatment of him by many board members, including you [Mayer]. Superintendent Thompson has been the subject of insidious and defamatory publications, as well as harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and RCW 49.60, the Washington Law Against Discrimination.”

“As well, Superintendent Thompson’s constitutionally protected rights in his position and in his professional reputation have been damaged by the actions and omissions of you and other board members,” Kinerk wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Leader via a public records request.

Kinerk also claimed the board had violated the terms of Thompson’s employment contract.

“One small example will suffice,” Kinerk wrote. “It has been openly acknowledged by board members that the mandatory annual performance evaluation process has been disregarded and/or conducted in a shoddy and biased manner.”

The attorney said the “record of wrongful conduct” made the board legally liable, for the board as a whole, and for the members on an individual level. She said the board had “acted with malice and in reckless disregard of the superintendent’s constitutionally protected rights in his position and his professional reputation.”

The two-page letter demanded the board “immediately cease and desist from further wrongful and retaliatory action toward Superintendent Thompson” and that the school district’s insurance provider be immediately notified of the legal claim.

The claim seeks “full compensation of all the damages that have been sustained and will be sustained by Superintendent Thompson.

“This will include a request for punitive damages and full reimbursement of all costs and attorneys’ fees, as well as full compensation for financial damage and harm to reputation.”

The letter closed by asking the district to preserve all evidence “including written electronic and recorded communications stored on the personal devices (and in the cloud) of the board members, as well as the office of the board that pertain to Superintendent Thompson.”

Mayer declined to comment on the letter earlier this week.

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