Former Park City High School principal settles lawsuit with district
Terms were not disclosed, but Hilary Hays sought $910,000 in damages after firing
The Park City School District reached a settlement with former high school principal Hilary Hays, who sued in the wake of her 2012 firing, concluding a lawsuit Thursday that stretched more than three years.
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, the sides agreed on a settlement over the winter, but didn’t receive the required approval from Gov. Gary Herbert until recently. The payout will come from Utah’s Risk Management Fund, which insures all public school districts in the state, but terms of the settlement, reached in a sealed hearing, were not disclosed.
In a May status update letter to the court, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes and Assistant Attorney General Daniel Widdison, who represented the district in court, indicated the magnitude of the settlement warranted close scrutiny from Herbert.
“Due to the size of the settlement and the impact it will have on the State Risk Fund, the governor is taking extra time to review this settlement before giving his final approval/disapproval,” they wrote in the letter.
U.S. District Court Judge Jill Parrish dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice Thursday, closing the case.
Hays was assistant principal of Park City High School from 1998 to 2006, then served as principal until her dismissal in 2012. She sued the district in 2013 for breach of contract. In the lawsuit, she sought not less than $910,000 in relief for back wages and damages to her future job prospects, as well as to be reinstated to her post at PCHS or an equivalent position within the district.
Superintendent Ember Conley and her predecessor Ray Timothy — who terminated Hays — were defendants in the suit.
Representatives from the district declined to comment through spokeswoman Molly Miller, referring The Park Record to Widdison, who did not immediately respond to an email.
Vincent Rampton, an attorney with the Salt Lake City law firm Jones Waldo who represented Hays, said in an email that he was unable to provide details about the case.
“Unfortunately the settlement which Hilary reached with (the) Park City School District is confidential, and I am not at liberty to discuss it,” he wrote. “We can say that Hilary Hays is gratified that the dispute between herself and (the) Park City School District has been resolved, and wishes both the district and its students — past, present and future — the very best going forward.”
Hays alleged in the lawsuit that she was not given a reason for her firing, though her contract as a “career employee” specified she could only be dismissed for cause. She also claimed that her due process rights stipulated in the district’s termination policy were violated.
According to court documents, Hays was placed on probationary status in 2011 — for reasons she alleged were unspecified — and was referred to work with an outside consultant to address them. She claimed that a numerical survey of PCHS staff indicated her performance while working with the consultant improved 16 percent within five months, but she was nevertheless fired in the spring of 2012.
Hays also alleged in court that, during an administrative hearing with the Park City Board of Education after her firing, the district used witnesses and testimony that weren’t disclosed to her prior to the hearing.
In a 2011 letter filed as an exhibit in court, Timothy, the superintendent at the time, told Hays that several PCHS staffers and parents had come forward with concerns about her leadership of the school. The concerns included: an inability to refrain from extreme emotional reactions, extreme anger during meetings, creating a climate of tension or toxicity, creating a climate of fear in which staffers are afraid to speak up, mood swings, and unpredictability.
“These behaviors have caused many to question your overall health and well being,” Timothy wrote in the letter. “They are many of the same behaviors we have discussed in the past, which cannot be allowed to continue. Such conduct is considered to be unprofessional and not characteristic of or befitting a Park City School District employee.”
Hays testified in a taped deposition that she was taken aback by those accusations and that she was never informed of specific incidents that may have led to them.
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