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The Extended Day Program employee says she was terminated without just cause

The Lake Oswego School District is the target of a complaint filed in federal court June 19 by former district employee Jill Russ. Russ alleges that the district violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act when she was employed with the Extended Day Program. She is represented by employment and civil rights attorney Stephen L. Brischetto. Russ has requested a jury trial.

According to the complaint, Russ "is a female who does not conform in behavior and appearance to common female stereotypes." She alleges that gender discrimination or sexual orientation discrimination was a substantial factor in her termination.

Russ also alleges that she was terminated "because she in good faith reported information she believed was evidence of violations of state or federal laws, rules or regulations."

Further, she claims that after incurring a disability caused by a car accident (which she informed the district about) she was not provided with reasonable accommodations and was terminated in part due to the disability.

Russ' complaint has many factors, the first being an incident in the spring of 2016. According to the complaint, Russ "reported to her supervisor that a transgender student in the extended day program at Rivergrove Elementary School was being subjected to improper discriminatory treatment by another staff member."

Russ alleges that the treatment continued after she reported it. Soon after, Russ learned that the same transgender child had been assaulted by another student, and the presence of the student "appeared to be creating a hostile environment for the transgender student," reads the complaint.

Russ then informed the transgender student's parent about the incidents, who in turn complained to the district.

The complaint also includes claims that Russ was repeatedly denied her required afternoon breaks, which she noted on her time card. Russ alleges that her supervisor called her and said "How dare you," in reference to Russ reporting her missed breaks.

On November 3, 2016, Russ was fired by the district. She then filed a grievance through the teacher's union asserting that she was terminated without just cause. According to the complaint, the grievance went to arbitration, where Russ prevailed and secured reinstatement of her employment. Russ was reinstated, given a warning and put on a last chance agreement.

In September 2017, Russ was involved in a car accident, according to the complaint. She suffered a concussion, hairline fracture to her jaw and whiplash, and required staples to the back of her head.

Following the accident, Russ "suffered pain, dizziness, nausea, difficulty multitasking, headaches and fatigue. The symptoms affected her work performance and attendance," reads the complaint. She notified the district of her injuries and requested reasonable accommodation, but alleges that the district "failed to engage in an interactive process to arrive at an accommodation."

In February 2018, the district again terminated Russ, according to the complaint. "The incidents alleged as the basis for the termination were conduct that arose from her disability, or conduct that should have been reasonably accommodated," the complaint reads.

Russ also alleges that the termination was retaliation for reporting the 2016 incidents, as well as based on gender discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination or disability discrimination.

Russ requested a hearing in front of the Lake Oswego School Board to appeal her termination, according to the complaint. That hearing took place April 16, 2018.

Russ alleges that the school board initially voted to reverse the termination decision, but soon changed its tune.

"On April 27, 2018, the School Board convened a second hearing in an executive session and precluded plaintiff from offering additional evidence or argument in this second hearing," reads the complaint. "After convening in executive session, the school board changed its decision and terminated plaintiff's employment."

Russ claims she has suffered emotional distress in addition to lost wages and benefits. "Plaintiff is entitled to reinstatement of her employment or in the alternative an award of lost future wages and benefits in an amount to be determined at trial," according to the complaint.

The Lake Oswego School District declined to comment. It is standard practice for the district not to comment on threatened or pending litigation.

The case has been assigned to Judge Anna J. Brown at the United States District Court in Portland.

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