Teacher discrimination suit against Salem-Keizer schools settles for $125,000

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Teacher discrimination suit against Salem-Keizer schools settles for $125,000

Published 6:10 p.m. PT June 28, 2017 | Updated 11:05 a.m. PT June 29, 2017

A special needs teacher feels vindicated after reaching a $125,000 settlement with the Salem-Keizer School District.

Holly Dowell filed a federal complaint against Salem-Keizer in 2016, claiming she was discriminated against “on the basis of age, disability based on perceived impairment, and whistleblowing.”

“My trust is shot,” Dowell said. “They made the last two years hell for me and my family.”

The allegations in Dowell’s complaint specifically concerned Sprague High School’s former Vice Principal Adam Watkins.

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

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

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

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.”

Watkins and the district denied the allegations when the complaint was filed; neither side conceded or admitted any guilt in the settlement agreement.

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. Kim Hoyt, a law partner of Dakopolos, also worked on the Dowell case.

“Salem-Keizer has very few lawsuits such as this, but they do come along time to time,” Dakopolos said. “We would like to avoid all lawsuits.”

Dakopolos said district officials have to carefully decide how to allocate resources that come from public funds. “In this case, that involved a settlement,” he said.

In the settlement agreement, Dowell voluntarily agreed to resign from the district and agreed not to reapply in the future.

She is now looking into job opportunities in other districts.

“They told me I’d never work for a high school again,” Dowell said. “There’s no going back to where I was.

“I have no desire to work in Salem-Keizer.”

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

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