Teacher sues the Park City School District, alleging retaliation for reporting students were being sexually harassed
Lawsuit claims she was stripped of teaching duties and transferred to a different school
For The Park Record
A former teacher at Parley’s Park Elementary School has filed a lawsuit against the Park City School District alleging she was stripped of her teaching duties and eventually let go in retaliation for reporting that several female students were sexually harassed on the playground by a boy in their fifth-grade class.
Kathryn Moore, a veteran teacher who had more than 13 years of teaching experience at the time she was hired on a one-year contract for the 2020-2021 school year, claims she was involuntarily transferred to another school and demoted to “permanent substitute” after reporting the harassment in December 2020. Four months later, she received a letter informing her that her contract would not be renewed.
“She spent very little time in the classroom and was very rarely called as a substitute teacher,” the suit alleges. “Essentially, the District transferred Ms. Moore to Trailside Elementary to bide her time the rest of the school year.”
The lawsuit — filed Jan. 19 in Utah’s 3rd District Court in Summit County — accuses the School District of retaliation in violation of Title IX, breach of contract and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. It seeks an unspecified amount of money in damages, including lost wages and retirement benefits.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits retaliation against an individual for reporting sexual harassment, according to a news release by Katie Panzer, one of the attorneys with Hollingsworth Law Office who represents Moore.
Shad Sorenson, the district’s chief human resources officer, said Monday in an email to The Park Record that the district’s practice is to not comment on pending legal matters pertaining to personnel issues.
The suit says five girls in Moore’s class told her on Dec. 4, 2020, that the boy had touched them inappropriately multiple times, stared at them in a way that made them uncomfortable and once laid prone on top of one of them during recess.
Moore immediately informed Principal Daren Houck what she had been told, and at his direction, she informed the parents of the girls who reported the sexual harassment that day about the complaints, as well as the boy’s parents, the suit says. Two weeks later, he directed that the classroom be segregated by gender, and although Moore strongly disagreed with that solution, she followed his instructions, the suit says.
The first day after winter break, Houck visited the classroom — which was split down the middle, with boys on the left and girls on the right — and said the children were not allowed to eat lunch with students of the opposite gender or play with them at recess, the suit alleges.
Parents complained about the segregation and the negative effect it was having on their children, and students were interviewed individually in January on a day Moore was out of the classroom.
“Ms. Moore was never provided any reason for these interviews but was only told that the ‘investigation’ revealed a ‘harmonious classroom,’ and that it was time to ‘reintegrate’ the students,” the suit said.
Houck, who left the district last summer to work as a consultant for a group of schools, said he can’t talk about anything dealing with students or employees. His employment change had nothing to do with the Moore situation, he said.
In late January, Sorenson allegedly told Moore she was being given the opportunity to transfer to a different school, but the suit claims she was not really given a choice. She was transferred to Trailside Elementary the next day and given the title of “permanent substitute teacher” but no job description or duties.
On April 2, 2021, Moore was given a nonrenewal letter saying that her one-year contract would not be extended.
Provisional employees, who are hired for three one-year contracts before they achieve career status, must be given a nonrenewal letter if their employment is not extended. Moore had been hired as a temporary employee who can be terminated at any time for any reason, making a nonrenewal letter unnecessary, according to the suit.
Many school districts have a policy or an unwritten practice of not hiring teachers who recently received a nonrenewal letter, the suit says. Moore got only four interviews after applying for 16 open spots at public schools and no job offers.
After she began applying at private schools, Moore found a position almost immediately but the salary and benefits are considerably low than what she could earn in the Park City School District and she is ineligible to participate in the Utah Retirement System, the suit says.
Moore believes there is a nationwide sexual harassment problem among elementary-age through high school-age students.
“Sexual harassment causes long-term effects in the victim,” she said. “We are seeing an uptick in depression, in self-cutting mutilations, in mental health issues. It’s not just what is done at the time of the incident, it’s the effects that it has.”
Moore noted that all teachers are required to report sexual harassment incidents and hopes her suit will make them feel protected when they do.
“Our job is to keep students safe,” she said.
Her students’ parents have been supportive, Moore also said.
“They thanked me for protecting their daughters,” she said. “They thanked me for standing up for their daughters.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.