Federal bias suit against Plumas schools can go to trial

Published: Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012 - 9:33 am

QUINCY – A federal judge has ruled that a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the Plumas Unified School District has sufficient grounds to proceed to a jury trial.

In his Oct. 31 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez rejected the school district's efforts to dismiss the case filed by J.C. Eaglesmith, an American Indian teacher and coach in the district 150 miles northeast of Sacramento.

Eaglesmith, who began teaching in the Plumas County district in 2000, was fired as Quincy High School varsity basketball coach, a position he initially held for three years starting in 2004 and again during the 2009-10 school year.

In his federal lawsuit, Eaglesmith claims school officials intentionally discriminated against him because he is an American Indian. He also claims school and district administrators retaliated against him for complaining about an array of racist incidents.

Mendez also said that Eileen Cox, a colleague of Eaglesmith and a 30-year employee of the district, had shown enough evidence to pursue claims of retaliation based on her support of him. The judge found "a course of conduct" by district administrators, who Cox said retaliated against her by shadowing her, eliminating her work space and eventually forcing her to resign.

Mendez dismissed claims made by Eaglesmith's wife, Ramona Eaglesmith, who was a co-plaintiff in the original lawsuit filed in January 2011. He also ruled that Eaglesmith did not present enough evidence to proceed with harassment claims.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include former Superintendent Glenn Harris; Yvonne Bales, former deputy superintendent and current director of business services; and Assistant Superintendent Bruce Williams.

Among the incidents the lawsuit cites is a pickup truck, allegedly driven by Bales and parked on school district property, bearing white-supremacist slogans and a hangman's noose. The truck was within sight of Eaglesmith's workplace.

Bales, who later apologized for the incident in a staff memo, did not return telephone calls seeking her comment.

In another incident, Williams allegedly laughed off mistreatment of Eaglesmith because he was "just a big scary Indian." Williams said he could not comment on litigation.

Harris resigned in April as district superintendent and was not available to comment.

A jury trial is set for May 20 in Sacramento.

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Read more articles by Jane Braxton Little

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