The administrator that Washoe County School District illegally fired last year is seeking compensation for her multiyear fight against the district. As first reported by ThisisReno, an independent arbitrator found WCSD violated state law when it terminated for Hug High Assistant Principal Trina Olsen in July of 2018.
The arbitrator ordered the district to reinstate Olsen in December and make her whole. That didn’t happen, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday in district court.
Olsen said that she continues to suffer from the ordeal, which started when she was ordered off school district properties in 2017 for an alleged student privacy violation. That coincided with Olsen reporting a concern that cannabis was given back to a student at Hug High School.
“In May of 2017, I was informed of allegations that illegal drugs may have been provided to students by Jessica Wilson, Dean of Students at Hug High, and by [then-Principal Lauren Baxter] Ford,” her complaint said. “I reported these allegations to WCSD Area Superintendent Roger Gonzalez; however, rather than investigate Wilson and Ford regarding allegations that they gave drugs to students, Gonzalez and other WCSD employees began a campaign of character assassination and retaliation against me, which led to my being fired in early July of 2018.
“Before I was fired, I requested that the dispute between WCSD and myself be subject to arbitration,” she added.
“People need to know how the district treats its employees.”
– TRINA OLSEN
Arbitration before termination is mandatory by state law. The district, however, insisted it did not have to be held to the arbitrator’s decision and said it disagreed with the arbitrator’s findings.
“The superintendent shall have the final decision based on the (arbitrator’s) recommendation since the board of trustees delegated all employment decisions to be determined by the superintendent on February 14, 2006,” WCSD Labor Relations Director Virginia Doran wrote to the arbitrator, Andrea Dooley.
Dooley’s decision was sent to the school district on Friday, December 14, 2018. Per state law, the superintendent shall, within five business days, either forward to the board of trustees a recommendation for Olsen’s termination or take no further action in firing her.
WCSD Attorney Chris Reich instead tried to make Olsen give up her rights and sign what amounted to a gag order. This was after Reich repeatedly sought to deny unemployment benefits for Olsen, requests that were overturned by the state employment department.
Reich sent on December 27 to Olsen’s attorney a draft “settlement agreement” that would have added conditions to the arbitrator’s decision.
“Olsen and the district agree they shall not disparage or malign one another with respect to any matter related to their employment or service, professionalism, ethics, work ethic, character or integrity (including) the district, its employees, and its officers,” Reich wrote.
Olsen refused to sign the document. She was placed into a new position early this year, however, and given back-pay from the time WCSD fired her in July 2018 until she started her new job in January.
“People need to know how the district treats its employees,” she told ThisisReno at the time. “This whole situation has been embarrassing to me and continues to negatively affect my family financially.”
Olsen emphasized that she never wanted to go public with her case. Documents show she repeatedly tried to get help from school district administrators and the school board of trustees — to no avail.
“I was forced to go public because my concerns were repeatedly ignored. I filed complaints that still have not been investigated,” Olsen said in January. “If the board [of trustees] doesn’t use this as a precedent for change, it will just perpetuate the behavior of district leadership and continue to promote a culture of fear for employees.”
Investigation results withheld
WCSD has not released the results of two investigations it authorized into claims made by Olsen and allegations made against her former boss, now Area Superintendent Lauren Baxter Ford.
Former Superintendent Traci Davis authorized in March two investigations into claims made by Olsen. School District Attorney Neil Rombardo claimed at the March meeting that confidentiality was waived, and later, in an email to ThisisReno, said that “the community deserves an answer on these as soon as possible….”
WCSD hired the same attorney, Anthony Hall, it is using to defend itself in another lawsuit, to investigate Olsen’s claims. The district denied that this was a conflict of interest.
“We also discussed that once the District hands everything over to him, the Office of General Counsel shall be screened from the investigation to avoid any actual or perceived conflicts of interests,” Rombardo said.
WCSD has paid the Simons Hall Johnston law firm $155,000 since January 1, 2019, according to online records.
WCSD officials said that the investigations would be made public.
“The findings of the investigation will be made public, as requested by Ms. Ford, in due course,” WCSD spokesperson Megan Downs said in March.
ThisisReno filed a public records order yesterday for those documents.
Despite being placed back at a new school, Olsen said in the lawsuit that she still fears retaliation by school district officials.
Ford, at a public meeting in March, called Olsen a “disgruntled employee.”
Olsen had to hire attorneys to defend herself against claims made by the district. She said that cost to defend her job amounted to about $50,000, which she said was used from her child’s college savings fund.
Olsen said, in the lawsuit filed yesterday, that she still fears retaliation by district officials.
“Despite having an excellent track record as a WCSD employee for a number of years … Olsen has been subject to a barrage of false accusations and allegations of misconduct by WCSD officials,” her lawsuit claims.
She said that she filed the suit to prevent WCSD from “taking any adverse action against” her without consent from the court.
WCSD “has not made Ms. Olsen whole as required by the [arbitrator’s decision]. To date, almost nine months after the [decision] … WCSD has still not complied with the provisions of [the law],” Olsen’s suit alleges.
Olsen is seeking compensation of more than $15,000 for multiple claims against WCSD, including legal fees.
WCSD personnel did not respond to a request for comment for this story.