Federal harassment suit filed against school district, former superintendent

Support specialist says malicious lies were spread

A Sequim School District employee has filed a sex discrimination lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the district and former superintendent Robert Clark.

Hanna McAndie, the district’s student support specialist, filed the lawsuit with the U.S. District Court in Tacoma on March 29.

According to documents filed with the federal court, Clark’s harassment of McAndie “through spreading malicious lies about sexual activity and maintenance of a hostile work environment on the basis of Plaintiff’s gender constitutes sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. section 2000e.”

Among other incidents, the complaint asserts that in February 2020, Clark as acting human resources director, asked district maintenance and facilities director John McAndie — Hanna McAndie’s father-in-law — to substantiate a claim that Hanna McAndie had had an affair with a former district official.

“Defendant Clark’s actions were wholly unnecessary, unprofessional, and retaliatory. (His) actions caused significant distress to the entire McAndie family and particularly to Plaintiff when she found out,” the complaint states.

Through the district’s representation, Preg O’Donnell & Gillett of Seattle, they asked the federal court to dismiss the charges with prejudice on April 19, according to court documents.

They wrote that McAndie “failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted” and that “damages, if any, sustained by (her) were proximately caused by persons other than the District and the District has no legal liability.”

The complaint alleges that Clark in September 2020 “perpetuated the false allegation of sexual misconduct” by McAndie when he discussed the allegation with assistant superintendent Jennifer Maughan, McAndie’s supervisor.

“Clark’s perpetuating this false allegation among SSD staff has had serious and devastating impact on Plaintiff’s professional and personal life,” the complaint states.

The complaint also claims that Clark “disparaged Plaintiff’s professional and personal reputation recklessly with statements which he knew or should have known were false and were likely to harm, and did harm, Plaintiff’s reputation.

“Clark willfully did his best to destroy Plaintiff’s personal and professional reputation, her marriage, and her relationship with her entire family with the scurrilous rumors he decided to ‘investigate’ on behalf of SSD,” the complaint asserts.

Jane Pryne, interim superintendent for the Sequim School District, said via email on April 10 that the school district has received McAndie’s complaint and is reviewing the contents.

“The litigation process will include evaluation of all of Ms. McCandie’s allegations relating to her claims of discrimination, retaliation, and defamation,” Pryne wrote.

“In the meantime, the District remains fully committed to providing a safe and supportive educational environment for all of its students, staff, and administrators.”

Sequim School Board directors unanimously approved Clark’s resignation on Jan. 19 with documents about his resignation released to the Gazette stating “As Dr. Clark is resigning his employment, the District agrees a written report of the investigator is no longer needed.”

McAndie’s complaint alleges that “Clark’s separation was negotiated as a dodge to avoid completing an investigation which would result in Defendant Clark’s termination and increased legal exposure for SSD.”

In its response to the complaint, the school district noted that McAndie’s “‘beliefs’ about the conclusion are speculative and the District denies the same.”

District response

Through the district’s representation, Preg O’Donnell & Gillett of Seattle, they asked the federal court to dismiss the charges with prejudice on April 19, according to court documents.

They wrote that McAndie “failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted” and that “damages, if any, sustained by (her) were proximately caused by persons other than the District and the District has no legal liability.”

Throughout their response they either deny McAndie’s claims, say they are without sufficient information to admit or deny claims, and/or is directed solely at Clark and they cannot make a response.

The law firm did admit to some portions of the lawsuit, such as dates of hirings, resignations and titles of employees. They also confirmed that the board of directors “disagreed with Dr. Clark’s decision making and handing of this situation” following an investigation, according to court documents.

Clark declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Background

McAndie started work at the school district as a substitute paraeducator in October 2017, and has worked as a special education paraeducator, community outreach coordinator/public information officer/truancy liaison, and most recently the district’s Student Support Specialist.

She went on personal leave on Feb. 8 “caused by the severe emotional impact of the hostile work environment, discrimination and retaliation experienced since April 2019,” according to the complaint.

Prior to going on leave, McAndie had completed coursework to become a certified special education teacher, the complaint notes.

“Because of SSD’s sexual harassment and retaliation against her, (McAndie) has been unable to complete her demonstrated teaching to obtain her certification which has prevented her from accepting a position as a certificated special education teacher,” the complaint states. “The resulting loss of future earnings is significant.”

The lawsuit does not detail damages sought, but seeks “for judgment against Defendants, jointly and severally, and an award of damages for mental anguish and emotional distress and for special damages in an amount to be proven at trial for violation of Title VII; and Defamation,” along with attorney fees and prejudgment interest on back-pay and accrued interest on judgment” and “such other and further relief as the court deems just and equitable.”

Lawsuit origins

According to the complaint, the lawsuit arises out of a “hostile work environment, sexual harassment, and retaliation” following McAndie’s formal complaint about Sequim Middle School principal Vincent Riccobene’s actions toward a special education student on or about April 25, 2019.

According to the court-filed complaint, McAndie was facilitating a hearing with the Community Truancy Board (CTB) to address student truancy by meeting with a particular student in April 2019. The mother of the student was not able to attend and asked that someone help her son physically find the meeting room, and Riccobene arranged to be at the meeting.

According to the court document, Riccobene was “belligerent and intimidating” to McAndie, and also “openly mocked and belittled (the) special education student in a discriminatory manner.”

The complaint asserts that after McAndie verbally reported the incidents to her supervisors, another district staffer failed to keep the complaint confidential.

The complaint also asserts McAndie felt intimidated into signing over a change in job responsibilities in November 2019.

“It has destroyed Plaintiff’s sense of community at SSD, increased her anxiety and stress, caused her to feel unsafe and anxious on SSD grounds, has harmed her personal relationships with her husband, family members, friends, professional references and coworkers.

According to the complaint, McAndie experienced “a significant increase in anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, interrupted sleep, poor nutrition, and other negative physical and mental impacts.”

She filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment against Clark “and any other staff spreading the rumor in violation of SSD policy” on Oct. 9. Clark was placed on administrative leave on Oct. 22.

In December 2020, McAndie was informed that school district lawyers were in negotiations with Clark about a separation agreement; Clark later agreed to resign in January 2021.

McAndie, according to the complaint, believes that Clark’s resignation “was not performed or completed in compliance to either SSD policy, the Washington Administrative Code or the Revised Code of Washington.”

McAndie on Jan. 19 received a letter titled “Conclusion of Investigation of your Complaint” from Sequim School Board president Brandino Gibson stating that “the investigation was now closed and that Dr. Clark had resigned his position as Superintendent,” the complaint noted.

The complaint also accuses a district-hired attorney of an “invasive and irrelevant line of questioning” with John McAndie about his son and daughter-in-law that “constituted additional punishment of Plaintiff and her family in retaliation for her claim of sexual harassment and for standing up for a special education student.”

McAndie filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Office against the Sequim School District on Dec. 22, 2020.

The school district, the complaint alleges, also released documents in response to a public records request from a Sequim School District staffer without proper redactions; that staffer contacted John McAndie with the information.

“This failure to adequately redact Plaintiff’s personal information was additional retaliation by SSD against (Hanna McAndie),” the complaint alleges.

Editor’s note: Reporter Matthew Nash contributed to this report. He has family employed by and enrolled in Sequim School District.

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