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PPS faces lawsuits on race matters

A trio of complaints target district, workers union


TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Portland Public Schools administrative offices in North Portland, where administrators are the subject of two filed lawsuits and one to be filed by the end of March. The Portland Public Schools district is facing a trio of lawsuits from its employees alleging racial discrimination.

Two African-American maintenance workers are the latest to file a civil suit. A Latina principal has a federal suit coming down the pike and an African-American paraeducator still has an open complaint.

Portland Public Schools does not comment on employment matters, nor pending litigation.

Portland Association of Teachers President Gwen Sullivan sidestepped a question on whether racial tensions are rising among staff members in PPS.

“I think it’s complicated,” Sullivan said. “I think as we start to address racism and systemic racism that there are many good and thoughtful individuals (who) maybe have their eyes open for the first time and really have no idea.”

But sometimes, for teachers of color or those who are white, like her, “It feels like you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. Especially if people are really trying to make changes, it’s difficult.”

Racist statements

The maintenance workers are Charles Morgan and Jason Williams, who have worked at PPS since 2010 and 2004, respectively. Their March 1 complaint names PPS and also their union, the Plumbers, Steamfitters and Marinefitters Local 290 Building Association of the District Council of Unions.

According to the complaint, both Morgan and Williams feel they were subjected to race-based comments — such as “What kind of rope do you want me to hang you with?” — and retaliated against for complaining. They also feel passed over for promotions and equal wages based on their skin color.

Williams alleges he overheard a union steward say in May 2014 to Morgan that he would not “help his black ass” and he would “hunt his black ass down.” After reporting the incident to the district, Williams began to be micromanaged, he argues in the suit.

PPS investigated Morgan’s complaints, according to the suit, but concluded that though Morgan had regularly experienced brief racial “microaggressions,” he was not discriminated against in his employment.

The suit further alleges that last September a union member complained about the PPS human resources department as “a bunch of n—gers” during a meeting.

The suit asks for more than $1 million.

Extended leave

Former Kelly School principal Marti Diaz will soon file a federal suit against Portland Public Schools, says her attorney.

“We have prepared and drafted a complaint for filing in U.S. District Court,” said Craig Crispin, a Portland employment attorney. Crispin anticipated filing before the end of March. He declined further comment at this time.

“We’re not going to try the case in the press,” he said.

Diaz and the PPS administration have been meeting — apparently unsuccessfully — to resolve complaints, according to the Facebook page of activist group Parents for Excellent Portland Principals.

Diaz has filed two complaints of discrimination and retaliation with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries after being put on paid administrative leave for almost a year and then fired Oct. 20.

Diaz alleged in her tort claim notice last summer that by placing her on extended administrative leave and then terminating her employment, the district is treating her differently and more harshly than other Caucasian principals. The leave occurred after a report that she hit her partner during an Oct. 11 camping trip with other PPS principals. Diaz was never formally charged, but says in her tort claim notice that the district then began retaliating against her by “soliciting and digging up more and more allegations against me in an effort to compile sufficient cause to terminate my contract of employment.”

In an Aug. 17 Portland Tribune story, parent Erin Clement described Diaz’s behavior as Kelly School principal as bullying and says the school was “living hell.”

Diaz says she was doing what the district asked and the leadership approved, counting up several honors she was given, until immediately before her leave.

‘Trouble-maker’

Joyce Moore, a paraeducator, is suing the district and Pioneer Program administrator Jon Williams, who is white. Moore said in her June 30 Multnomah County Circuit Court filing that when she was reassigned to the Pioneer Program at Holladay Annex in September 2013, she was subjected to violent threats and other hostility from students based on her African-American heritage.

When she complained, she was labeled a “trouble-maker,” and passed up for a transfer opportunity to Cesar Chavez School, she claims.

Williams and other PPS employees “... aided and abetted defendant PPS in creating and maintaining a hostile working environment, and the racially discriminatory atmosphere ...” the complaint says. Moore is requesting $250,000 in non-economic damages.


Shasta Kearns Moore
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