District responds to a complaint of gay discrimination | TahoeDailyTribune.com

District responds to a complaint of gay discrimination

William Ferchland

A response to a complaint alleging a discriminatory firing of a homosexual middle school math teacher refuted the claims and asked the suit be tossed.

Filed last week, the six-page response by Truckee attorney Gayle Tonon on behalf of Lake Tahoe Unified School District stated teacher Torril Purvis failed to “state facts sufficient” for an employment discrimination and harassment lawsuit.

Purvis – a tenured teacher with nine-years experience at other school districts, but placed on probationary status since she was in her first year at South Tahoe Middle School during the 2004-’05 school year – was given a notice of non-reelection in February 2005.

Purvis, through attorney Beth Ann Curtis, believed she was fired because school administrators discovered she was gay during a January 2005 after-school birthday party where she brought her partner.

The district’s answer to Purvis’ complaint had numerous points of defense, including Purvis did not “exhaust her administrative remedies” to her claims, that there is no ties between the district’s conduct and Purvis’ dismissal and she would have been let go anyway because of “after-acquired evidence of misconduct.”

Since 2001, the district has given dismissal notices to dozens of teachers catalyzed by declining enrollment. Notices are given to teachers with the least time in the district.

“(Purvis’) claim that her employment was terminated for unfair, false or retaliatory reasons is barred by the fact that (Purvis) was a probationary employee and cause was not necessary to terminate the employment pursuant” to an education code section, Tonon’s response stated.

Yet the complaint stated another math teacher on probationary status didn’t receive a notice and Purvis “believes that no other teacher has received a notice of non-reelection at the South Tahoe Middle school for several school years.”

Both Purvis and Tonon could not be reached for comment.

A case management conference has been scheduled for the morning of Sept. 25 in department 11 at El Dorado County Superior Court.

According to the complaint filed last month, teachers, parents and students threw their support behind Purvis. Twenty teachers signed a letter requesting the district to re-evaluate its decision. A petition signed by more than 100 students tried to save the math teacher’s job.

Purvis is seeking monetary damages Curtis declared will be stated during trial. Wages and benefits were lost, Purvis contends, as job opportunities in surrounding districts evaporated.

The original complaint stated Purvis was in talks with a Douglas County School District vice principal for a potential job. The vice principal visited South Tahoe Middle School to watch Purvis teach but left early after privately speaking to middle school principal Jackie Nelson outside Purvis’ classroom, the complaint alleges.

The Douglas County job offer dried up after the incident, the complaint continued.

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