The Washoe County School District was hit with another lawsuit from a former employee. The suit, filed Friday, alleges that the District’s attorney lied to a judge and violated the Nevada Public Records Act. It also claims that administrators conspired to oust former Superintendent Traci Davis and fired an administrator in violation of a settlement agreement.
It’s the latest in a series of lawsuits filed in the wake of former Davis’ firing earlier this year. The newest complaint, filed by former special education administrator, Byron Green, is directed at interim Superintendent Kristen McNeill. The lawsuit reveals new information related to Traci Davis’ firing.
Green alleges that McNeill and the District’s chief legal counsel, Neil Rombardo, conspired against him, Green’s husband David Lasic — who was also fired in June — former administrator Jenny Hunt, and Davis.
Green said he raised concerns about feeling bullied by anonymous complainants and the Washoe School Principals Association after working to improve the District’s services to students with disabilities.
He claims that after a state report in 2015 chastising the District over its handling of special education, he and Davis sought to revamp the WCSD Office of Student Services (OSS).
“Davis…made it a priority to reform the OSS and its practices, making it the mission of OSS to ensure, as much as possible, that the District complied with existing legal requirements for students with disabilities,” said attorney John Moore on Green’s behalf.
However, “Green and others within OSS were the frequent object of false complaints leveled against them as a result of the reforms and other charges being implemented by his office under at the direction of Superintendent Davis,” Moore continued.
That came to a head in 2017 when Green and Hunt were placed on leave while an outside company, Solutions At Work, was hired to investigate bullying allegations by Hunt, and, it was later revealed, Green.
McNeill, the suit claims, put Green and Hunt on leave but would not explain the nature of allegations against them, Green alleged.
Green quietly hired an attorney to get public information
Green, concerned about his treatment, hired Moore — unbeknown to WCSD — in 2017. Green was privy to the internal emails but privately had Moore try to extract them from WCSD under the state’s public records laws.
Documents published with Green’s lawsuit show that WCSD’s legal team wrestled with how to respond to Moore’s records requests.
District paralegal Breanne Read was emailing district officials internally.
“The District currently does not have a process or policy in place to charge for public records requests,” she wrote to Alan Cunningham, WCSD’s information security officer.
In order to charge, she added, WCSD would have to have a publicly posted policy. The District’s responses to Moore, however, show WCSD officials trying to extract, initially, $35,000 for the records.
Later, Rombardo increased the estimate to $270,000, according to Moore.
“The District did not claim in this initial correspondence [in June of 2017] to Moore Law Group that it would charge anything to respond to the request,” Moore documented in Green’s suit. “On November 15, 2017, the District’s office of general counsel formally responded to Moore Law Group’s June 16, 2017 public records request, refusing to provide any responsive documents, claiming various ‘privileges’ for the first time without providing a privilege log, and claiming that it would cost the District $35,016.50 of copying and extraordinary staff time to respond…
“The District asserted this claim even though in previous correspondence, the District did not claim that it would cost anything to respond to the June 16, 2017 public records request and even though the District, at that time, did not have a policy that complied with NRS 239 that would allow the District to charge for copying costs to respond to such requests,” Moore continued. “The November 9, 2017 email demonstrates Rombardo was being dishonest with opposing counsel… was fabricating the District’s ability to charge for copying, and used the District’s expressed ability to charge $35,016.50 for copying: (1) to squash Green’s effort to obtain documents related to SAW’s investigation because of the exorbitant cost; (2) to stymie Green’s efforts to address and correct the behavior exhibited toward Green by the District during the SAW investigation; and (3) to prevent Green from vindicating the false assertions made to WPSA about Green having been disciplined by the District.”
Green eventually sought to fight the District’s public records denials in court. A court ordered WCSD and Moore to meet in January of 2018. This meeting was to establish fees for the records.
However, Rombardo later “sent an estimate to Moore Law Group wherein the District estimated the District would reasonably expend nearly $270,000 (almost eight times greater the original estimate of $35,016.50 provided on November 15, 2017) in actual time to respond to Moore Law Group’s records requests.”
Moore called Rombardo’s estimate false and a charade. He also said Rombardo lied to the court.
Why Green backed off
Green had also filed a complaint with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission (NERC). That complaint led to a settlement conference with the District with Moore. It was the first time Green was openly acknowledging his representation by Moore.
Attorney Anthony Hall, representing the school district, reportedly said at that meeting that they knew that Green was “receiving leaked information from someone within the District,” Green’s lawsuit alleges, “and that the leak investigation would likely lead to the employment discipline of Green and impliedly toward … Lasic.”
What happened, though, was that Hall purportedly suggested Green drop the NERC and public records complaints in exchange for WCSD dropping the investigation into alleged information leaks.
Moore describes Green’s response to Hall’s proposal as one of shock.
“The threats, however, hit their mark,” Moore said. Green dropped the complaints out of concern for his and Lasic’s jobs.
“Green now believes, based on these statement’s made by Mr. Hall during settlement efforts, and because Green has now been fired by the District for allegedly leaking information to Jenny [Hunt] and others, that the School Board was never informed of the potentially leaked information investigation or the settlement that Green ultimately reached…” Moore wrote.
The District agreed, as part of the settlement, not to take disciplinary actions against Green.
That changed when district officials, including Board of Trustees President Katy Simon Holland, who initially denied any involvement, moved to fire Davis in June.
Green alleges that WCSD encouraged Davis to go on leave and put McNeill into the acting superintendent position so that McNeill could fire Lasic and Green. Records show Holland urging Davis to fire Lasic and Green first.
“In Green’s termination letter, McNeill makes it clear that Green was terminated for his conduct in April of 2017…” Moore noted.
Green and Moore deny, however, that confidential information was ever leaked to Hunt “other than documents or items that [she] had in her possession because she was also provided with the allegedly confidential information by McNeill.”
Green’s suit, therefore, is for allegedly violating the settlement agreement.
The District would not comment on the case, citing a policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
Lawsuits weave a tangled web
Green’s suit is the latest fallout from Davis’ administration. Here are some of the ongoing cases.
Jenny Hunt, who worked under Green, is suing WCSD for discrimination. She was fired during the Green/Hunt investigations. Her case, in federal court, is pending. Most of her claims were dismissed by a judge earlier this year, but one complaint is still in play. She’s being represented by attorney Francis Flaherty. Attorney Anthony Hall is representing the school district in its defense.
Trina Olsen is suing Traci Davis and WCSD after an arbitrator directed WCSD to “make her whole.” The arbitrator said WCSD illegally fired her because they terminated her before going through a legally mandated arbitration process. WCSD hired Hall to conduct its own investigations into Olsen’s claims, which Olsen’s attorney called a sham. Olsen is represented by attorney Luke Busby.
WCSD has hired attorneys Robert Dotson and Justin Vance to defend itself. WCSD hired attorney Katherine Parks on behalf of Traci Davis for Davis’ defense against Olsen’s lawsuit.
Traci Davis is suing WCSD for wrongful termination. She is represented by attorney Bill Peterson. WCSD is using Anthony Hall for its defense.
Another former school district employee has been taken to court after an arbitrator found in favor of the employee. The independent arbitrator directed WCSD to put the former teacher back to work.
WCSD attorney Chris Reich called the arbitrator’s decision “arbitrary and capricious.” He appealed to district court to have the arbitrator’s decision overturned. He also said WCSD deserves attorney’s fees. The employee is fighting WCSD’s claims with the Washoe Education Association.
This story is developing and may be updated.
Read Green’s complaint below
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor, and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, where he completed a dissertation on social media, journalism and crisis communications. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.