South Kitsap School District settles lawsuit with Sparks

Former employee, who was terminated in 2011, will receive $100,000 settlement

Former South Kitsap Schools employee Derek Sparks settled his lawsuit Wednesday against the district and former superintendent Dave LaRose.

The district agreed to pay Sparks, who claimed his 2011 termination from the district was based on racial discrimination, $100,000 to drop his claims.

A trial was scheduled for Feb 2.

In spite of the settlement, Superintendent Michelle Reid said the district “continues to deny any liability for its actions, and the resolution is not indicative of any wrongdoing on behalf of the district.

“I want to state categorically that we have outstanding staff in this district who work hard every day to support the success of all students — no exceptions. These allegations are very hurtful to our dedicated and hardworking staff, particularly as they have done nothing wrong.”

According to court documents, SKSD officials did not renew Sparks’ contract because of “abuse of sick leave, abuse of professional leave, and lying to human resources about the uses of sick leave and professional leaves.”

Sparks, who is African-American, claimed the decision was racially motivated.

He said all of his sick and professional leave was authorized by his supervisor, Thomas Mosby, the director of career and technical education. Mosby, now with the Highline School District, denied to investigators that he approved the absences.

Sparks, who was hired as the fifth football coach in as many years in June at Seattle’s Garfield High School, also alleged that he was subjected to disparate treatment because of his race. He said a trio of SKHS staff members — teachers Jim Fairweather and Dave Neighbors and career center coordinator Sandy Elton — made racially insensitive remarks on separate occasions. All three denied the allegations.

According to court documents, Sparks said he also resigned his position with the school’s football program because he no longer could tolerate other coaches on the staff “who were jealous of his celebrity status, write-ups in the newspaper and great connection with the students.”

In July 2011, LaRose met with Sparks the following month and told him he would recommend that his contract not be renewed. Sparks alleges that the superintendent pressured him to resign or “he would never work again in education.”

Even though LaRose was not accused of making alleged racist remarks, Sparks said his complaints were ignored and the superintendent exerted his position of authority to terminate him “because of his race and ethnicity.”

LaRose, who left SKSD in July 2012 to become superintendent of the Culver City Unified School District in California, denied making a threat, and stated that Sparks had not pled any facts that connect him to any intentional discrimination.

On July 13, 2011, SKSD’s board of directors voted to not renew Sparks’ contract. Sparks believes he was fired for retaliation because of his complaints to supervisors about the treatment he received from colleagues.

Soon after Sparks complained, SKSD officials initiated an investigation into his use of sick leave. Shortly after, LaRose made it clear that Sparks’ contract would not be renewed.

Sparks’ complaint sought punitive damages against LaRose because he alleges he acted in “conscious disregard” for Sparks’ constitutional and federally protected rights.

Reid blasted the merits of the lawsuit.

“At a time when it is so easy to throw out false statements and allegations which then often take on lives of their own; it is time to stop and be cognizant that these are real people, with real families and real reputations, who do not deserve this negative attention,” she said. “I continue to be proud of our staff and will resolutely stand with them whenever they are falsely impugned.”