Racial discrimination lawsuit settled; Tukwila schools ‘to move forward’

A settlement has been reached between the Tukwila School District and nine current or former employees who had filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 claiming racial discrimination.

A settlement has been reached between the Tukwila School District and nine current or former employees who had filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 claiming racial discrimination.

The district and the employees agreed not to release details of the settlement as part of the stipulated agreement, although district spokeswoman Sara Niegowski said in an interview the settlement included “limited monetary compensation.”

“I can verbally confirm that the settlement included limited monetary compensation but out of respect for the parties and their intent to honor the amicably achieved agreement, the district will not have further comment.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined last November that the school district created a hostile work environment for nine of its employees based on their race, sex or color. The employees’ lawsuit named then-Supt. Ethelda Burke, alleging Burke, who is black, used racially tinged language to refer  to African American employees.

The school district also investigated the employees’  charges, but  in its response  to federal investigators, the school district  wrote that it found no evidence to substantiate  them. Burke resigned in June 2012.

School district lawyers and Joan Mell, the employees’ attorneys, reviewed the content of the news release before it was released.

“This agreement is in the best interest of both sides and, ultimately, our students,” said Tukwila Supt. Nancy Coogan. “This is not about pushing through to prove a winner or a loser, but about recognizing that we need to move forward together, collectively as a new district under new leadership to serve children. We all want to start looking toward our future, not our past.”

An agreed moderator ran the mediation session. This was a collective, joint effort toward a resolution, according to the news release.

As part of the settlement, both parties wish to keep the settlement details confidential.

“Leading the most diverse school district in the nation, I hold myself to the highest standards as the learner in chief,” Coogan said in the news release. “I acknowledge that the past several years have not been easy for this district or for some of my staff. My promise is that we are moving forward, and I intend to demonstrate that my underlying sense of fairness and opportunity extends unequivocally to staff as well as students.”

In her inaugural year as superintendent, Coogan has established a Race and Equity Team and embarked on listening sessions with staff throughout the district. The purpose of both has been to build a culture of respect and dialogue. She is adamant about building dialogue with stakeholders and staff based on respect and dignity, according to the release.

And, in keeping with the district’s continued mission to best serve all students, it will kick off this school year with an achievement-gap audit and staff training in positive behavior interventions.

“Bottom line: The school board and I want the families in the Tukwila School District to know that we are moving forward with what is most important—educating the children,” Coogan said. “We are so grateful for the opportunity to serve the district, listen to the challenges expressed by staff, and collectively come together on behalf of the students. It is time to move ahead, and we are very thankful to do so in a collaborative fashion.”

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