BILLINGS - The former principal of the Lodge Grass Elementary School claims the school district and former superintendent discriminated against him when they demoted him and ultimately terminated his employment.
Kenneth Deputee Sr., filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Billings last week alleging civil rights violations by the district and John Small, the former superintendent.
Deputee’s complaint filed on Wednesday said the district and Small violated his constitutional rights against discrimination based on age and gender and right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace.
Among Deputee’s claims are that Small demoted him and then, with board approval, hired his niece, Trivian Rides the Bear, as the new principal. She did not have a valid administrator’s license, had less experience and was related to several board trustees, the complaint said.
In addition, Deputee alleges that from 2011 to 2013, Small harassed, criticized and threatened him.
In June 2013, the school board, with Small’s recommendation, terminated Deputee as part of a reduction in force plan and then, contrary to a school agreement, did not notify him of future job openings, the complaint said.
Deputee’s attorney, Rich Batterman of Baker said Friday that Deputee “feels he was treated unfairly and he wants to correct what he sees as more of a systemic problem so it doesn’t happen to anybody else.
“And he wishes to have the school address what he sees as some real fundamental problems with the way they handle employment matters and make decisions in that area,” he said.
Lodge Grass School Superintendent Victoria Falls Down, who started the job earlier this month, declined to comment and said she would be contacting the school’s attorneys.
Deputee taught school from 1984 to 1996 and then became the elementary principal in 1997. The complaint said Deputee “served with distinction” and met annual progress standards and goals.
In 2011, Small, with board approval, demoted Deputee from principal to dean of students and hired Rides the Bear as the new principal.
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Rides the Bear was about 20 years younger than Deputee, who was about 60 at the time he was demoted, the complaint said.
For the next three years, Deputee claims, Small harassed and treated him differently by assigning him to a cramped office with inadequate space to do his job and assigning administrative duties that were not part of his job description. Some of those duties included monitoring student lunch periods and busing and preparing a Title IX compliance program.
Deputee claims neither the district’s other dean of students nor Rides the Bear was required to do such jobs.
In 2013, the district enacted a plan to identify which employees would be terminated and which would be retained. At that time, Deputee, who had more teaching and administrative experience than Rides the Bear, the complaint said, was earning about $64,000, while Rides the Bear earned about $8,556 more per year than Deputee as the principal.
In 2012, the complaint said, Rides the Bear had “failed to achieve many of her professional goals.”
In March 2013, the complaint continued, Small recommended Deputee for termination, saying the school needed to cut staff to reduce salary and overhead. The board terminated Deputee’s employment in June 2013.
Under an agreement the school had with the teacher’s union, employees terminated through a reduction in force plan were required to be notified of all future job openings, the complaint said.
After Rides the Bear resigned as principal in 2014, Deputee was not notified of the vacancy or given an opportunity to apply for the job, although he had notified the district that he continued to hold a valid administrator’s license, the complaint said.
In 2014, Small “assumed the elementary principal’s position personally at a substantial increase in pay,” the complaint said.
Deputee claims he was not retained by the district because of his gender, age and lack of family relationship to Small and a certain board trustee.
Deputee is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages and a jury trial. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan Watters.