By Chris B. Bennett, The Seattle Medium
This evening, the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors by a 5-1 vote, with Director Leslie Harris casting the lone dissenting vote, approved a $400,000 settlement agreement between the district and former SPS Athletic Director Eric McCurdy, who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the district in 2018.
In his lawsuit, McCurdy alleged that the non-renewal of his employment contract in December 2018 — after the district settled a harassment claim by a former employee that accused McCurdy of creating a hostile work environment that caused her to leave her job in 2016 — was based on an incomplete investigation process, hearsay and did not include interviews with “a long list of people” who McCurdy had requested to be interviewed as part of the investigation.
According to the lawsuit, the district’s initial investigation of the complaint against McCurdy found that no violations had occurred. Subsequently, the plaintiff 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. The accuser 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. Ironically, the $500,000 settlement did not include a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which according to McCurdy’s attorney at the time was “unheard of.”
Many observers believe that the public airing of the settlement due to the lack of an NDA is what ultimately led to McCurdy’s removal by SPS Superintendent Denise Juneau.
McCurdy, who served as athletic director from 2010 until 2018, was credited with many things that helped improve that state of athletics in the area, including helping to organize the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association‘s (WIAA) diversity committee, increase coaching stipends for the first time in 15 years, and bringing back the three largest schools in the district — Garfield, Roosevelt and Ballard — to the Metro League from the Kingco League. In addition, under his leadership the Metro League had three basketball teams (Garfield, Rainier Beach and Nathan Hale) ranked in the USA Today/ESPN top 25, which reportedly was the first time any school district in the country had three teams in the top 25 at the same time, and the Metro League was also the first football conference in the state of Washington to restructure based on competitive equity and safety, which became a model the rest of the state.
Additionally, McCurdy is credited with the following accomplishments in three notable areas:
• Hall of Fame. The Athletic Department established the SPS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2017 to celebrate the accomplishments of outstanding SPS high school athletes, teams, coaches, administrators, and athletic supporters. SPS has a proud 100-plus year history of athletic accomplishments. The Hall of Fame inductees are recognized at an annual induction ceremony where inductees are honored for their athletic, academic, and professional accomplishments. This is a positive and popular event that celebrates the diverse student athletes from SPS, including both male and female collegiate, professional, and Olympic athletes.
• WIAA Leadership. Athletic Department executives expanded their leadership role from running the Metro League to leading the Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), the state athletic association for all public and private schools. During his tenure at SPS, McCurdy was elected by his peers as President of the WIAA. He also supported his successor’s involvement in the WIAA, who now serves on the WIAA Executive Board. In 2018, the WIAA awarded McCurdy the Gareth Giles Memorial Recognition Award for his leadership and dedication to the ideals of the WIAA. McCurdy was also a state-wide leader in promoting Unified Sports, a Special Olympics program that promotes social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences.
• Financial Procurement. McCurdy worked to secure and develop a six-year $2.7 million dollar grant to support sports programs at SPS. The grant allowed SPS to stop charging participation fees for athletics, which previously had an adverse impact on families furthest from educational justice. McCurdy also recognized that athletic participation is important for all students, because student athletes have a higher grade-point average, better attendance, lower discipline referrals, and a higher graduation rate. Eliminating the athletic fee though procurement and development of the grant program benefited thousands of students and families.
SPS, under the direction of current Superintendent Denise Juneau, has been under criticism from many in the African Americans community, including the Seattle King County Branch of the NAACP, for the removal/resignation of five African American males in leadership positions within the district, including McCurdy, that Juneau inherited when she began her tenure in 2018.
At a press conference held by the NAACP in October 2020, Gerald Hankerson, President of the Alaska, Oregon and Washington State Area Conference of the NAACP, claimed that the district had “purged” African American males out of the district. In December, Juneau announced that she would not seek a contract renewal with the district.
Under the terms of the settlement, McCurdy and his counsel will collectively receive a one-time cash payment in exchange for a full release of all of McCurdy’s claims against the school district. Seattle Public Schools will be responsible for paying one-third of the settlement sum, and the Washington Schools Risk Management Pool will be responsible for paying the remainder. In addition, the settlement agreement specifically precludes either party from commenting further on the lawsuit or on the settlement, with neither party admitting any fault or liability.
In her objection to the settlement, Harris claimed that she could not vote to approve the settlement based on the condition that neither party could comment on the lawsuit or the settlement.
While McCurdy is unable to comment on the lawsuit or the settlement, he stated at his press conference when he announced his lawsuit that he filed the suit in order to clear his name.
“My dad always said in life, all you have is your name and your work,” said McCurdy at the 2018 press conference. “I have to fight this.”