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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Athletic Director Files Lawsuit Against Seattle Public Schools

Seattle Public Schools Athletic Director Eric McCurdy listens while his attorney outlines key issues in his lawsuit against Seattle Public Schools. Photo/Chris B. Bennett.

By Chris B. Bennett
The Seattle Medium

Surrounded by prominent members of the African American community, and a number of athletic directors and coaches from Metro League member schools, Seattle Public Schools Athletic Director Eric McCurdy announced at a press conference held last Friday the filing of a lawsuit against the district in order for him to continue to serve in his current capacity with Seattle Public Schools.

The district recently announced that McCurdy, an African American who has served as athletic director since 2010, will be leaving the district at the end of 2018. His removal by Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau reportedly is the result of a $500,000 settlement by the district with a former employee, Krystyana Brame, who alleged that McCurdy created a hostile work environment that caused her to leave her job in 2016.

“I’m very apologetic that we’re here today in this situation talking about something less than students,” said McCurdy at the press conference. “I’m here today to ensure that we go through the district process, and that we walk through that process continuously, that our next level would be to file an appeal to the Superior Court. So that one, I can clear my name, the other thing that I can get back to work doing what we do best within the Metro League and that is to support student athletes.”

According to the lawsuit filed by McCurdy, two disgruntled employees in the Athletic Department, as each was leaving the district, filed charges against McCurdy claiming that he had violated the district’s policy regarding harassment, intimidation, and bullying. The district’s initial investigation found that no violations had occurred. Subsequently, Brame filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) for sex discrimination. The EEOC investigated the charge and also found no cause to believe discrimination had occurred. Brame then retained the services of an attorney and filed a discrimination lawsuit against the district relating to her claims against McCurdy that led to the settlement.

“One of the key points in this case is that both of these people were on probation,” said McCurdy’s attorney Judith Lonnquist. “They knew that their jobs were in jeopardy and so as they were going out the door, they made allegations against Mr. McCurdy that are untrue.”

“There was an investigation that found no sexual harassment by the school district,” added Lonnquitst. “She [Brame] then filed with the EEOC, the United States Equal Opportunity Commission raising claims of sexual harassment. The EEOC found no cause and only then when she filed a lawsuit did the school district decide — without asking Mr. McCurdy or giving him a chance to defend himself – to settle the case for half a million dollars, when it was not warranted for any payment at all in my professional judgment.”

According to Lonnquist, the school district went against the wishes of McCurdy and settled that case with Brame, and did so without obtaining a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

“There was no sexual harassment when it came to Krys Brame and yet the school district gave away $500,000 in taxpayer money to keep her quiet without a document that keeps her quiet,” said Lonnquist. “I have practiced employment discrimination law here in Seattle since 1975. I’ve never seen an employer settle a case particularly for that amount of money without a non-disclosure agreement, and in this case the school district’s attorney agreed to turn over half a million dollars to this woman, but did not require her to sign a confidentiality agreement. In my judgement that’s unheard of.”

McCurdy claims that during the second investigation by the district some of the key witnesses that could have cleared his name were not contacted by investigators or were allegedly questioned in such a way that it could be interpreted by those who were questioned that the investigators had determined that McCurdy was guilty of the charges.

In documents obtained by The Seattle Medium it appears that several employees expressed concerns about the investigation and its findings. One letter of support, in particular, appears to support McCurdy’s assertion that the investigation process “was not complete” and did not include interviews with “a long list of people” who McCurdy had requested to be interviewed as part of the investigation.

The letter went on to say that, “it seemed as if many of the questions were leading and not open, which seemed to represent a foregone conclusion.”

Lonnquist believes that a review of the district’s investigation will show that the investigation was not conducted in a way that was fair to McCurdy.

“One of the things we’re going to be doing in this litigation is challenging the fairness of this investigation,” said Lonnquist. “It was not an independent investigator. It was an employee of the Seattle School district from the human resources department who asked very slanted questions, very aggressively in favor of a finding against Eric. So, it truly was not a fair or complete investigation.”

During his tenure with the school district, McCurdy had many accomplishments including: the establishment of the first Seattle Public School Hall of Fame, serving as president of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), helped organize the WIAA’s diversity committee, increased coaching stipends for the first time in 15 years, developed the SPS Unified Sports Program – students with and without intellectual disabilities, brought back Bumbershoot to Memorial Stadium, secured the largest gift in the state’s history for a public secondary school at $2.74 million to support all student-athletes in the Seattle Public Schools, and brought back the three largest schools to the Metro League from the Kingco League (Garfield, Roosevelt and Ballard).

According to Traci Huffer, athletic director at Ingraham High School, the athletic department was in disarray prior to McCurdy’s arrival, and that there were a number of issues including coaches not being paid on time.

“When Eric came to town we recognized that there was a new sheriff in town,” said Huffer.  “We all became better athletic directors because of Eric’s leadership. He held us accountable, he held our feet to the fire sometimes and we stepped up to the plate for all of his goals and aspirations and I truly believe we are a better leader because of Eric.”

McCurdy’s claim against the district is asking to be re-instated as Executive Director of Athletics for SPS and economic damages, but more importantly he claims that he wants to clear his name.

“My dad always said in life, all you have is your name and your work,” said McCurdy. “So for my name to be slandered amongst a lie, I have to fight this. I have children. I have to do what’s right, not just for myself, but for this league to defend this.”

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