Miller v. Fort Bragg Unified

There are cases that wend ever so slowly through the court system. In some civil cases even preliminary results can take years. One such case in the Superior Court of Mendocino County is Miller v. Fort Bragg Unified School District.

Donna Miller began work in the Fort Bragg Unified School District (FBUSD) in August 2001 as a school counselor. She progressed to the job of principal at Fort Bragg Middle School, commencing work there in the summer of 2007. She continued as principal despite a 2013 cancer diagnosis. Her treatment involved several procedures as well as undergoing chemotherapy at regular intervals during the 2013-2014 school year. Miller was allowed to take time off from work for needed treatments.

At the time of Miller's cancer treatments Don Armstrong served as Superintendent of FBUSD. At the end of the 2013-14 school year Armstrong retired. FBUSD hired Charles Bush as the new superintendent. The 2014-15 school year, as it pertains to Ms. Miller's working relationship with her new boss, appears to have been best described as acrimonious. In early 2015, at the urging of Superintendent Bush, FBUSD's Board of Trustees removed Ms. Miller from her job as principal of the district's middle school.

Miller's lawsuit alleges that Superintendent Bush, acting for FBUSD, discriminated against Miller on the basis of her age, gender, and disability. In addition, in her suit that cites ten causes of action, Miller also contends that she was sexually harassed by Bush.

As the case wended its way through 2018, FBUSD, as defendant, sought a summary judgment, which would effectively throw plaintiff Miller's case out. On October 26th, Superior Court Judge Jeanine Nadel ruled on the summary judgment. “The court finds that there are triable issues of fact as to whether Plaintiff [Miller] was a victim of discrimination at the time her contract was not renewed. While it is undisputed that Plaintiff [Miller] was offered a lesser paid job at the time her contract was not renewed and she choose to retire instead, there are also triable issues of fact as to whether this was a constructive termination.”

Referring to the FBUSD decision not to renew Miller's contract in 2015, Judge Nadel wrote, “The board members who were present at the meeting (only 4 out of 5) acknowledged that they relied on the input and recommendation from Superintendent Bush, but there is no evidence as to what that input consisted of in its entirety. Superintendent Bush was the only one to list the alleged reasons for Plaintiff's [Miller] removal/demotion. One of the reasons... elicited through the discovery process is that [Miller] attended a training session without filling out the appropriate form. There is no dispute of fact relating to this incident and the effect on the Middle School while she was absent for one day. Another reason is that [Miller] did not have teaching experience. However, [FBUSD] does not dispute [Miller's] qualifications. A third reason is that the Middle School was on Performance Improvement status in 2014. However, the academic performance actually improved in the 2014 school year. Defendant's [FBUSD] attempt to address the discriminatory reasons by providing self-serving declarations that, “My vote has nothing to do with gender, age, or medical condition” only further support the court's decision that there are triable issues of fact as to whether there is a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason. This is particularly so when [FBUSD] concedes (albeit for this motion only) numerous statements of undisputed facts relating to the qualifications of [Miller} and her history with the District, and the fact that she was replaced with a younger less qualified individual. There is also a triable issue of fact as to the motivation of Superintendent Bush even before the school year began.”

The filings by Miller's attorneys allege that as soon as Bush became Superintendent of FBUSD he “immediately began targeting Miller and [two] other older female Principals in the district.”

According to those same filings, “When Bush first became Superintendent, he asked Miller how old she was, and she informed him that she was 64. In private, Bush repeatedly asked Miller how long she was going to work. When she responded that she wanted to work several more years, including until age 70, Bush said that he would have to see about that...”

Charles Bush

One of the most damning allegations revolves around a conversation Bush had with a long time school district employee in the early months of the 2014-2015 school year. Again quoting from the court filings, Bush told a long time Director of Student Services that “he was going to fire Miller or make her life so miserable that she would quit, but because he had 'taken heat' for firing [one of the other older female principals] he planned to stage hiring a mentor for Miller with no intent of making things work.” Bush uttered these words only a couple of months into the school year.

Miller's suit claims that Bush made sexually inappropriate comments to her during a private meeting in September, 2014. In that meeting Bush allegedly said that boys react differently when they're sexually molested than do girls. He described a boy's sexual response in detail. Miller says she was horrified. The filings also allege that Bush made harassing remarks to an older female bus driver and another school district employee.

The plaintiff's filings further claim that throughout the 2014-2015 school year, Superintendent Bush misrepresented Miller's performance to the FBUSD Board of Trustees, eroding a previously good relationship between the principal and the board.

Miller's case in regard to Charles “Chuck” Bush's behaviors does not stand alone. Among the other court filings is a deposition from a teacher in the Cinnabar School District, where Bush was Superintendent for three years immediately before coming to Fort Bragg. The teacher's deposition details the angry, derogatory tone Bush took with the teacher after a faculty meeting in 2011. The teacher, who had well over twenty years experience at the school, stated in her deposition, “While Mr. Bush was employed I was in my late 50s. He was mean to me and most of the other women on our staff. He was especially mean to two other older female teachers who were also in their late 50s... He... made up false accusations about their performance and lied to the board about their behavior.”

Following his exit from Fort Bragg, Mr. Bush went on to a Superintendent position in the Palo Verde Unified School District, where he is the subject of a lawsuit similar to that of Ms. Miller. When the fecal matter began to hit the fan for Bush in Palo Verde, the local newspaper in Blythe reported in this manner: “On Tuesday, December 13, [2016] The Desert Independent received several documents made available by the Palo Verde USD via a California Public Records Act submission. The first of these was a copy of the in-house email sent to the Board and staff from Superintendent and alleged human being [this writer's emphasis] Charles Bush regarding changes in administration at Palo Verde High School.”

Of course, this alludes to a Bush attempt to force out an older female administrator with many years experience. A brief summary of the Palo Verde lawsuit can be seen in the “Mendocino County Today” section of the online AVA from September 15, 2018.

The filings go on and on in the Mendocino County case, with deposition on top of deposition supporting Miller. Unless some sort of settlement is reached via mediation, the case is scheduled to go to trial in late January.

One Response to "Miller v. Fort Bragg Unified"

  1. John Fremont   November 7, 2018 at 3:56 pm

    Charles Bush belongs in jail. Unfortunately, a dear friend and wonderful local bears his name. Chuck Bush, recently retired Sr. Ctr. director, is not the alleged misogynist.

    Reply

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