Ex-principal’s suit against school district now moving
Ryan Summerlin September 2, 2014
A lawsuit between the Park City School District and a former principal of Park City High School has been slow to get off the ground, but finally seems to be moving.
On Thursday, Aug. 21, the school district, represented in the case by the Utah Attorney General’s office, and Hilary Hays, the former PCHS principal suing over her 2012 dismissal, were in federal court in Salt Lake City. U.S. District Court Judge Richard Shelby, presiding over the case, heard arguments about a series of issues, made several quick rulings clarifying certain technical elements of the suit, and reiterated a schedule for the case.
The school district was sanctioned in early August for improperly "refusing to provide any discovery or participate in scheduling," according to an order signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse on August 6. The defendants argued that they were not obligated to participate in scheduling or discovery while certain motions to dismiss were pending, but the judge disagreed.
Judge Furse ruled that the school district had "exhibited bad faith" and ordered it to pay $5,907.
Daniel Widdison is handling the case for the Attorney General’s office and filed an objection to the sanctions just prior to the Aug. 21 hearing. That objection proved partially successful. Judge Shelby upheld the sanctions issued by Magistrate Judge Furse (magistrate judges assist district court judges, and either can make rulings in a case). He did, however, order the amount lowered to $3,805, "because this is the amount reflected on the billing spreadsheet that Plaintiff originally submitted to the court."
The remainder of the hearing was devoted to sorting through the lawsuit’s counts and getting all the parties on the same page with respect to them. Along with the school district, its former superintendent, Ray Timothy, who fired Hays on May 8, 2012, and its current superintendent, Ember Conley, are defendants in the lawsuit.
Hays is seeking "an amount not less than $910,000" and "her prompt reinstatement as Principal of Park City High School with former pay and benefits; in the alternative, to an equivalent position with another school within the District, with equivalent pay and benefits."
She claims that the reasons for her dismissal were not made clear and that her due process rights in challenging her dismissal were violated.
"No substantiation, documentation or itemization of deficient performance was offered to Plaintiff, either within or incident to the letter of termination, other than the statement that Defendant Timothy had received ‘a number of comments still expressing a lack of trust in you as a leader’," the complaint reads.
Hays’ complaint includes claims for breach of contract, violation of the Utah Orderly School Termination Procedures Act, violation of constitutional due process rights and violation of other federal law. Judge Shelby acknowledged to the defense that the varying claims may not have been pled in the most "artful" way.
Shelby said that he had a discussion with his clerk earlier in the day as they worked through the lawsuit’s substantive and procedural due process claims. "This case looks close to a college professor with tenure," he said.
After acknowledging the early delays in the lawsuit’s progression, Judge Shelby went over the schedule for the case that he recently ordered.
Discovery is to be completed by early 2015 and, if the schedule is not extended at some point, a trial would take place in early 2016.