Discrimination suit filed against school district | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Discrimination suit filed against school district

Amanda Fehd

A former South Tahoe Middle School math teacher is suing Lake Tahoe Unified School District for firing her allegedly because she is openly gay.

Torril Purvis filed a complaint June 26 alleging middle school principal Jackie Nelson changed her attitude toward Purvis after a January 2005 birthday party at which Purvis introduced her partner for the first time.

Nelson gave Purvis a notice in February 2005 stating she would not be rehired following a school board decision two days prior. Purvis was hired in August 2004, with a two-year probationary period.

Nelson allegedly told Purvis she was not a “good match” for the district.

District human resources director Beth Delacour referred comments to district lawyer Gayle Tonon with Tonon and Associates of Truckee. Firm partner Lynne Goodwin said the firm would not comment on pending litigation.

The alleged incident occurred when Lorraine Garcy was acting as district superintendent. Superintendent James Tarwater assumed the job in July 2005.

After Purvis was terminated, her department chair, fellow teachers, students and parents rallied to her defense, according to the complaint.

Twenty middle school staff members signed a letter asking the school board to reconsider its decision, praising Purvis as well-liked by students and saying she is a “great match for our district and school,” according to the complaint.

Math department chair Kelly Koeppen and fellow math teacher Eileen McEwen wrote letters to Garcy praising Purvis’ teaching abilities, according to the complaint. Koeppen asked why she was not consulted or “made aware of any problems.”

Fellow teacher Holly Greenough, whose child had Purvis as a teacher, wrote to Garcy that she was shocked and disappointed and that Purvis is “an outstanding math teacher whom everyone loves,” according to the complaint.

One hundred students signed a petition saying “Ms. Purvis is the best teacher we have ever had,” according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges the school district discriminated against Purvis on the basis of her sexual orientation and asks for undetermined monetary damages. It states Purvis never received an explanation for why she was fired and had no complaints in her file at the time of the notice or after.

Another probationary math teacher was allowed to keep working despite complaints that had been filed against him, the complaint says.

At least 17 teachers at the district received layoff notices in March 2005. Layoff notices are called “reduction in force” notices, and teachers who receive them can get their jobs back. Purvis received a “non reelection notice,” which meant Purvis could not be reinstated. The complaint states she was the only one at the middle school to receive such a notice in several years.

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