Eight women connected to the Lopez Island School District have filed complaints through the state Human Rights Commission against a former secondary school principal who is currently a high school teacher, alleging he created a sexually hostile work environment for years.
The women also plan to file a lawsuit against the Lopez Island School district naming history teacher Dave Sather, according to attorneys at Cedar Law, which specializes in education-related cases.
"They've allowed for his behavior to continue when they've been warned about it," said Shannon McMinimee, a Cedar Law Attorney. "The district has been put on notice, and they haven't done anything to change it."
The attorneys allege Sather--when he was a school principal--retaliated against school workers who complained about being harassed. The accusations against Sather range from unwanted propositioning, to sexual gestures, to sexual comments, and even stalking behavior.
In comments made in complaints to the Human Rights Commission, the behavior was dismissed by the Superintendent because Sather has a "frat-boy mindset."
"This individual, the superintendent and board members are all drinking buddies," said Cedar Law attorney Lara Hruska. "It's a small community, they all know each other, and I think the board and the superintendent have made an affirmative choice to maintain a sexually hostile work environment that he's perpetuating."
In a 2017 letter sent by the Lopez Island School District to parents, the district explained then-Principal Sather had made sexually explicit comments and jokes to adult staff members, but that no students were involved. Attorneys for the eight women say Sather was also accused of sending graphic photos.
The letter said Sather apologized to the board and agreed to take sensitivity training.
''He asked me over thirty times in two years if I would go on a play date with him," said Jennifer Norvelle, who works as a secretary for the school superintendent. "Later, I found out his definition of a playdate was about being intimate with a mother while her children were playing.''
"He was my supervisor," said Della McCullough, the president of the union representing school workers. "He said "'We can change that child's behavior if I just blanked the mom, and then the kids find me the next morning making breakfast. She'll be passed out,'" McCullough said.
"These women are not coming forward to take the district down, said Cedar Law Attorney Shannon McMinimee."They're coming forward because they couldn't let one more day go by, they couldn't let one more good employee leave the island because of this behavior, and they're brave."
The Lopez Island School District sent KIRO 7 a statement confirming it had received allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior concerning adult staff members, and not students. "The District takes these allegations seriously and will be investigating," the statement read. "The District cannot comment further on this confidential personnel matter."
Cox Media Group