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Board votes to appeal ruling in favor of teacher who twice prevailed in arbitration against school district

By Bob Conrad

Caidyn Edlund was arrested and fired from teaching at Galena High School in 2018. 

He appealed his firing by the Washoe County School District (WCSD). He twice prevailed against the district arbitrations by independent arbitrators. He also prevailed against WCSD in Washoe County District Court early this month.

The school board voted unanimously to appeal the court ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court. 

“The Office of the General Counsel believes the Order is factually and legally flawed and there is good cause to reverse the Order on appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court,” according to today’s WCSD board meeting agenda.

The ruling, by District Judge Kathleen Sigurdson, ordered the district to “make Mr. Edlund whole for all applicable lost earnings, interest, and benefits…,” Edlund’s attorney said the amount owed to his client is includes two years of back pay plus benefits. They are also seeking attorney fees.

The case is similar to the ruling an arbitrator made in favor of Trina Olsen after WCSD was found to have illegally fired her for what the arbitrator called excessive and arbitrary enforcement of district rules.

What happened

Edlund said his professional life was nearly ruined by the ordeal. It began after he started as a special education teacher with WCSD in 2014. He was previously a teacher at Clark County School District.

His teaching evaluations were rated as effective while at WCSD.

“This matter arose as a result of Mr. Edlund leaving a gym bag containing a pistol in the locked cab of his pickup truck parked in the GHS faculty parking lot on May 10, 2018,” Sigurdson wrote. “Mr. Edlund legally purchased the pistol and possesses a valid Nevada Concealed Firearm Permit. District Police Officers searched Mr. Edlund’s truck after a K-9 ‘hit’ on Mr. Edlund’s truck, and discovered white pills, which the officers believed was meth, and Mr. Edlund’s pistol.”

Edlund agreed it was an error to to leave his pistol in his car — he said he made a mistake by grabbing the wrong gym bag to workout after school. 

The alleged meth was actually digestive aid pills, which was determined with a lab analysis.

“There was no controlled substance, whatsoever, in the capsules that … supposedly the canine hit on that day and the officers confiscated,” Edlund’s attorney testified during an arbitration hearing. 

Sigurdson added: “On July 2, 2020 Judge Hardy in Department 15 of this Court, issued an Order which sealed the records from Mr. Edlund’s criminal case and further ordered that all proceedings recounted in the sealed records are deemed never to have occurred…”

Edlund was unable to work in education during the time he was facing the drug charge. He was only recently hired in another school district.

WCSD moved to fire him; Edlund in turn filed a grievance.

Arbitrators find in his favor

In late 2019, the first arbitrator in the case “concluded WCSD did not have just cause to dismiss Mr. Edlund, ordered the WCSD reinstate Mr. Edlund to his former position without loss of seniority of accrued benefits, and ordered that the WCSD make Mr. Edlund whole for all lost earnings, interest, and benefits,” according to Sigurdson.

WCSD attorneys, however, appealed the award to district court. The court ordered a new arbitration. The award, WCSD attorneys alleged, “was arbitrary and capricious.”

A second arbitration was in August of 2020. 

“Arbitrator [Catherine] Harris’ Order ruled that Mr. Edlund acted ‘recklessly’ in leaving the pistol in his vehicle, [so he was] not entitled to an award of back pay…” 

At this point, Edlund took WCSD to court seeking back pay as part of the arbitrator’s decision, which Edlund’s attorney, Luke Busby, said is mandated in state law.

It wasn’t until early October of this year that Sigurdson issued her ruling. 

“The Court finds that Edlund has shown by clear and convincing evidence that Arbitrator Harris’s finding that Edlund acted recklessly is not supported by substantial evidence in the record,” Sigurdson ruled. “Rather, this finding is contradicted by the substantial evidence based on the findings by Arbitrator Harris.”

Sigurdson also said that by denying back pay, Harris manifested a “disregard for the law. The criminal charges against Edlund have been dismissed. Therefore, [state law] requires that he is entitled to back pay. [Harris] ignored and paid no attention to the applicable standard for determining whether back pay is required.”

Sigurdson also said the determination that Edlund acted “recklessly” be reversed.

Back pay, attorney fees sought

Edlund’s attorney, Luke Busby, said he is seeking $14,000 in attorney fees plus back pay and benefits for Edlund. The total could reach $175,000 or more based on what Edlund was making at the time of his termination.

“WCSD’s arguments that it should not be ‘punished’ by an award of attorney’s fees … missed the mark,” he wrote in a court filing yesterday. “Edlund never argued that attorney’s fees should be awarded as a punitive measure. Rather, WCSD should be required to compensate Edlund for attorney’s fees because Edlund should never have incurred such fees…

“It was the school district, not Edlund, that took Edlund to court over the first arbitration in which Edlund prevailed,” he added. “WCSD should have simply awarded Mr. Edlund back pay after the second arbitration proceeding where it was so abundantly clear that the applicable law required that he be compensated for being fired without just cause.”

The school district, Busby added, continues to waste resources.

CORRECTION and update: This article initially included an incorrect amount for back pay owed. The story was also updated to note the board approved the agenda item to appeal.

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