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Baldwin lawsuit is settled

by Sharon Carter

Attorneys for the Douglas County School District and Douglas High School Vice Principal Susan (Grady) Baldwin have settled the federal lawsuit Baldwin filed last year in U.S. District Court in Reno.

Although the settlement “meant a little money to the school district,” according to the district’s finance officer, Rick Kester, conditions were not disclosed.

The district’s personnel officer, John Soderman, and Baldwin both said Wednesday a condition of the settlement was that it could not be discussed.

“It went well. The case is public record, but there’s a no comment provision in the settlement,” Baldwin said. “All I can say is everyone’s been great.”

n AG’s office. Nevada Deputy Attorney General Melanie Meehan-Crossley, who specializes in educational matters, said there are many reasons why such stipulations of confidentiality are agreed upon.

“And at this point, the parties are bound by the settlement and they’re not in a position to budge on that,” Meehan-Crossley said Wednesday. “It’s a standard practice in the private litigation arena. Whether it’s appropriate here (when public money is involved) is a different question.”

n What happened. Joined in the lawsuit by the Nevada State Education Association, Baldwin, who has been an employee of the school district for 22 years, had accused the Douglas County School District of violating her constitutional rights.

The educators’ union and Baldwin, who had been George Whittell High School’s vice principal for six years, asserted that her job had been eliminated without regard for her 14th Amendment right to due process. They contended the school district’s actions were in direct violation of federal civil rights legislation, Nevada laws and the school district’s own personnel policy.

Also named as defendants in the Jan. 15, 1998 lawsuit were Douglas County Superintendent of Schools Pendery Clark and George Mross, the district’s former assistant superintendent of personnel who retired last year.

At issue was the method in which Baldwin’s administrative position was eliminated.

According to court documents, on March 6, 1997, Clark spoke to Baldwin about a district management reorganization plan, the sole element of which was the elimination the vice principal position at Whittell.

On March 11, 1997, less than a week after the conversation, Clark presented the plan to the school district’s board of trustees.

More than three months later, Baldwin received her first written notification that her job was eliminated.

n The demotion. In a personnel letter dated June 16, 1997, Baldwin was given two options if she wished to continue working for the school district: she could accept a position as a teacher/athletic director at Whittell or she could work as a regular teacher in some other secondary school in the district.

The upshot was that either position was non-administrative, paid less and amounted to a demotion.

Baldwin’s complaint listed the course of events to point out that district administrators had failed to follow statutory guidelines for dealing with state employee labor issues.

The complaint asserted Clark was legally required to inform Baldwin of the planned demotion in writing at least 15 days before presenting the plan to district trustees.

In the notice, Clark was required to inform Baldwin of the grounds for the demotion and that she would have 10 days in which to request a formal hearing before an arbitrator.

Since no such information was given to her, the complaint said, Baldwin did not request a hearing and took a teaching position.

The complaint asserted Baldwin had a property interest in her administrative post, its salary and status.

And because the rules weren’t followed, she was deprived of her property without the due process guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, the 1983 U.S Supreme Court civil rights decision, Nevada state law and the district’s personnel code, which allows an employee a chance to appeal proposed actions to school trustees.

The complaint also stated the actions and omissions were done intentionally to cause Baldwin injury and violate her rights.

n Asked for jury trial. In the lawsuit, Baldwin had asked to be reinstated in her former position and that no disciplinary actions be taken against her until and unless the district complied with the statutes. She had asked for a jury trial and monetary damages in lost wages and benefits. She also asked for attorney fees and bad faith damages.

n A promotion. In a court document dated Aug. 14, 1998, the school district’s lawyer noted Baldwin had been appointed to an administrative position and both sides were working to settle the case.

Federal District Court Magistrate Judge Edward C. Reed dismissed the case Dec. 30, 1998.

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