Scappoose School District attorney responds to more than 90 claims that Superintendent Paul Peterson had created a hostile workplace for women

The attorney representing three current and former Scappoose School District women administrators who are alleging Superintendent Paul Peterson discriminated against them because of their gender asked the state labor agency examining the allegations to halt its investigation so he could move forward with a lawsuit.

Closure of the investigation, which was being conducted by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Civil Rights Division, also allowed BOLI to disclose its investigative work so far, including the school district attorney's responses to specific allegations against Peterson and the district.

• Click here to read the BOLI report.

A March 8 complaint dismissal memo accompanying the BOLI investigation shows that attorney Tom Boothe formally requested BOLI close its investigation shortly after the state agency questioned the strength of one of the complainant's case against the district.

Boothe is representing former Scappoose High School Principal Sue Hays, current Scappoose Middle School Principal Pamela Reynolds and current Middle School Athletic Director and Student Management Administrator Darla Meeuwsen. Each has claimed that Peterson has created an environment within the school district that favors men over women for promotions and was hostile to women administrators.

Negative opinions

BOLI investigator Peter Martindale reported that 'complainant Reynolds proved to have the weakest case of the three by far, with no real evidence to support two of her three protected classes, age and disability.'

The memo continued to say that, while Reynolds' allegations of gender discrimination dovetails with Hays' and Meeuwsen's claims, 'her charge did not allege a tangible employment action as having occurred within the jurisdictional period.'

It also pointed out that Reynolds had been the subject of a 2010 review in which Hays and Meeuwsen participated, both having articulated 'extremely negative opinions' about Reynolds' job performance, according to the memo. When BOLI investigators raised this point to Boothe and informed him of the process going forward, including the possibility Reynolds' claims could be dismissed and the investigation of Hays' and Meeuwsen's allegations would continue separately, Boothe requested BOLI close its review so that he could proceed with the cases in court simultaneously, the memo says.

Boothe filed a tort claim, or a notice of the right to sue, in December. Following close of the BOLI review, he has a 90-day window in which to file a court action.

'I trust the jury and prefer to go through the court system,' Boothe said Monday when asked about his request to halt the BOLI investigation.

Boothe did not specify whether he would pursue the case in Columbia County Circuit Court or in U.S. District Court, where allegations of civil rights violations are often tried.

The BOLI report provides the first statements from the district in response to the more than 90 separate claims made against Peterson and the school district last December. The responses challenge the validity of the administrators' allegations outright or raise questions about the quality of each claim as it pertains to unlawful discriminatory acts.

Lisa Freiley, an attorney with the Oregon School Boards Association, provided the responses to the separate administrator claims, in each case requesting BOLI dismiss the complainants' allegations.

Freiley had not responded to The Spotlight's requests for comment, and Peterson declined to comment.

Treatment of women

A bulk of the district's response had been focused on Hays' allegations. Hays, the former Scappoose High School principal who has been criticized in the past for her perceived abrasive demeanor, is claiming Peterson undermined her authority as principal, failed to credit her for her actions and denied her multiple advancement opportunities.

The claims range from non-specific statements about Peterson's treatment of her and other women administrators, including instances in which they claim they were 'shushed,' and some actions referenced by date. For example, Hays, a lesbian, claims the district was pushing her out because of her support of a student-run Gay Straight Alliance Club.

She also challenges whether the district transferring her to work as the director of curriculum and instruction - a position that was cut from the budget the following year - was punitive in nature.

The district denies that claim.

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