Federal lawsuit filed against Salem-Keizer district


Federal lawsuit filed against Salem-Keizer district

10:53 a.m. PDT June 27, 2016

A special needs teacher in the Salem-Keizer School District has filed a federal lawsuit, claiming to have been discriminated against “on the basis of age, disability based on perceived impairment, and whistleblowing.”

Holly Dowell filed the original complaint in the United States District Court on February 24.  An amended complaint was filed in May.

According to the complaint, Dowell has “dedicated herself to the education of students with special needs.” However, “Over the past two years … Dowell has … been subject to discrimination and a hostile work environment.”

The allegations specifically concern Sprague High School’s Vice Principal Adam Watkins.

The lawsuit is an action for monetary damages and to “redress unlawful employment discrimination,” according to the complaint.

Dowell was hired by the district in 2007, and during the 2007-2008 through 2013-2014 school years, she received good performance evaluations, according to the complaint.

Watkins became the vice principal in 2014, serving as Dowell’s supervisor.

Beginning in September 2014, Dowell claims in the complaint, Watkins showed favoritism to younger female teachers, interacting with Dowell with “hostility and anger.”

Additionally, Dowell claims she was subjected to “additional and unnecessary surveillance and scrutiny.”

The complaint states “Watkins times (Dowell’s) restroom breaks via hallway video and even required (Dowell) to contact the Sprague office if she wished to leave her classroom to use the restroom.”

Multiple other accounts of discrimination and scrutiny were addressed in the complaint.

Dowell also claimed the district misused funds from the state concerning special needs students.

“(Dowell) has been directed by her administrators to make misrepresentations … about the status of special needs students who have completed their studies at Sprague High School in an apparent attempt to secure funding … for a greater number of students than those who are actually in attendance,” according to the complaint.

Watkins and the district deny the allegations.

Paul Dakopolos, a private attorney for the district, said it is typical for the school district to have lawsuits brought against it, though it varies in number each year. Attorney Kim Hoyt has also been working on the case.

Concerning the Dowell vs. Salem-Keizer School District and Adam Watkins lawsuit, Dakopolos said, “We really can’t talk about many details at this point as (Dowell) is still an employee, though on leave.”

“This is not a termination case,” he said.

Dowell went on leave in February and has remained on leave for the 2015-16 school year.

“When she is ready to return, she has a job,” Dakopolos said.

According to Dowell’s attorney, Loren Collins, no trial date has been set yet.

He said the discovery phase  will continue through November.

“Mrs. Dowell looks forward to her day in court and the opportunity to clear her good name,” Collins said.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745 or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or http://www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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