COURTS & LEGAL

Davis School District, ex-employee reach $143,558 settlement in discrimination suit

Jun 6, 2024, 8:56 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2024, 6:59 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Davis School District officials and a former employee tasked with investigating racial harassment cases have reached a settlement to resolve the lawsuit she filed against the school system over alleged discrimination.

Per the settlement agreement, supplied by the school district to KSL.com on Wednesday, the district will pay $143,558. Of that, $86,134.80 will go to Joscelin Thomas, the former employee, half of it in the form of pay that’s subject to tax withholding. The remaining $57,423.20 will go to her legal representative, Hollingsworth Law Office.

“Unfortunately, I can’t tell you anything beyond what’s in the public record,” said Katie Panzer, one of the attorneys representing Thomas. Thomas, who had worked in the Davis School District’s Office of Equal Opportunity, filed the suit in U.S. District Court on Jan. 9, saying she, as a Black woman, had faced discriminatory treatment.

Per the agreement, Davis School District admits no wrongdoing, and the settlement funds are “tendered in compromise of a disputed claim and to avoid the expense of further litigation,” it reads. Both sides are subject to a non-disparagement clause, and the district will provide a “neutral reference” for Thomas when sought by a potential employer.

In a statement, the district made no direct reference to the suit. “The district’s priority remains to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for every student, staff member and community member who enters our school campuses,” it reads, in part.

Per the settlement, representatives from the two sides agreed in a filing in U.S. District Court on Monday to the dismissal of the case, without additional explanation. An entry Tuesday in the online federal court filing system states the suit has been terminated and the case closed, again without any other details.

The district’s Office of Equal Opportunity was created in the aftermath of an explosive 2021 U.S. Department of Justice report finding the district was “deliberately indifferent” to racial harassment cases involving students. The 2021 report, covering the period from the fall of 2015 through the spring of 2020, has prompted many changes in the district to address shortcomings federal officials uncovered, and those efforts continue.

Ahead of this week’s dismissal, Davis School District officials never filed a formal response to Thomas’ lawsuit. In response to media after the filing of the suit, the district said administrators, teachers and staff members “stand firmly against any form of harassment or discrimination that affects a child’s learning experience in our schools,” similar to wording in Wednesday’s statement.

Thomas said in her lawsuit she “was treated differently than her lighter-skinned and non-Black co-workers and was subject to a hostile work environment by her co-workers.” She was hired in June 2022 and worked for the district about a year.

Among other things, Thomas said she was denied training opportunities her colleagues received, faced condescending and brusque treatment, and didn’t get mentorship from assistant superintendent Fidel Montero, who had also been named in the suit. “Defendants subjected Dr. Thomas to disparate treatment when they denied her adequate training, held her performance to a higher standard than her non-Black and lighter-skinned co-workers, and disciplined her for the same ‘unprofessional behavior’ that her non-Black and lighter-skinned coworkers were permitted to exhibit,” the lawsuit had charged.

To address the charges by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Davis School District created an online platform students can use to report charges of harassment and discrimination, among many other things.

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Davis School District, ex-employee reach $143,558 settlement in discrimination suit