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Former principal sues White Pine Charter School

Education

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IDAHO FALLS — A former principal has filed a federal lawsuit alleging trustees at White Pine Charter School violated his human and civil rights.

Jeremy Clarke, whom trustees fired in March, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the District of Idaho on May 7, contending that the school’s board members violated his rights under the Americans With Disabilities and Idaho Human Rights acts, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Idaho Wage Claim Act and other laws.

The lawsuit marks the latest in revelations surrounding Clarke’s final months at the school, which also included $51,000 in undocumented payments he and the school’s former business manager, Nick Burrows, received over an 11-month period, according to an Idaho Education News investigation.

Here’s a closer look at separate complaints outlined in the lawsuit:

The Americans With Disabilities and Idaho Human Rights acts. The lawsuit alleges that trustees failed to accommodate a disability that impacted Clarke’s neurological system. This includes the board’s purported failure to “allow Clarke to take a leave of absence and recover so that a due process hearing could be held” on his behalf.

The school board also discriminated against the former principal by “terminating his contractually-protected employment while he was on an authorized leave of absence” and failing to engage in an interactive process or “offer any explanation as to why it could not accommodate Clarke,” the lawsuit reads.

The Family Medical Leave Act. The lawsuit alleges that the board terminated Clarke’s employment as a result of his use of intermittent paid leave under the the Family Medical Leave Act.

As a result, “Clarke has suffered, and will continue to suffer, a loss of earnings, employment benefits and job opportunities.”

Breach of contract. Clarke says the board breached contracts he held with the school.

In December, Clarke signed a three-year contract with White Pine that included an annual salary of $112,500 — nearly $12,000 more than his prior one-year salary. Trustees later voided the contract, citing a violation of Idaho open meeting law during the meeting in which the raise was approved, according to the lawsuit.

The board’s attempt to void the three-year contract constituted a material breach of the school’s contractual obligations to Clarke, the lawsuit reads. Other purported breaches include:

  • Rescinding paid administrative leave Clarke had been put on prior to his firing.
  • Terminating Clarke’s employment without notice, without informing him of reasons for his removal and without legal justification.
  • Refusing to pay Clarke salary and benefits remaining in his contracts.
  • Failing to consider extending Clarke’s contract with the school prior to firing him.

The school owes Clarke remaining unpaid salary and benefits within the three-year contract or his prior one-year contract, the lawsuit reads.

Clarke also contends that the school’s failure to pay wages detailed in the contracts constitutes a violation of the Idaho Wage Claim Act.

Other purported violations outlined in the lawsuit include wrongful termination, violation of procedural due process and defamation.

“Clarke was and continues to be damaged because of the communications made by Defendants,” the lawsuit reads.

Clarke is seeking an award of damages “to be proven at trial.” He is also seeking attorney’s fees and other related costs.

White Pine is a public charter school that survives on tax dollars and public and private grants. The school enrolls some 700 students and has an annual budget of $4.5 million.

Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report.

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on May 20, 2020.

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