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School Settles With Whistleblower District Will Rehire, Retrain And Pay Maintenance Worker Who Was Laid Off

The Peninsula School District has agreed to pay $80,000 to a school maintenance worker who claimed he was laid off in retaliation for blowing the whistle on financial wrongdoings by his co-workers.

Doyle Hughes also will be rehired by the district April 2 and trained in a new line of maintenance work.

The agreement settles a federal civil rights suit Hughes filed against the district last May. The district admits no wrongdoing.

School district attorney John Biggs told school board members Thursday night the settlement will save at least $50,000 in legal costs. It also spares the district from what might have been a huge jury award had Hughes won in court, Biggs said.

The board approved the settlement on a 4-1 vote.

Hughes went to work for the 9,000-student Gig harbor-area school system in 1992 as a maintenance mechanic. A year later, he complained that workers were selling scrap metal that belonged to the district and illegally putting the money in their coffee fund.

State auditors later determined that maintenance workers sold at least $2,780 in scrap metal between January 1990 and August 1992 and that none of the money found its way back to the school system.

The audit led to the resignations or retirements of at least four top district officials. The audit also has been blamed for causing the failure of four consecutive maintenance and operation levy proposals.

Hughes was laid off following the first audit losses in 1994, rehired in January 1995 and laid off again last June.

Biggs said most of Hughes’ complaints were legitimate, but the way he chose to make them rankled people.

Hughes claimed in the suit that he was harassed by co-workers and supervisors, denied promotional opportunities, given a negative performance evaluation and laid off in retribution for his whistle-blowing.

Hughes couldn’t be reached for comment, but his Tacoma attorney, Paul Lindenmuth, said Friday he and his client were pleased.

“This gets him back to work and gets him into a job that’s a real good fit for him,” Lindenmuth said. “That was a real big part of it. He wanted to be a part of the school district and have a better future.”

Hughes will be paid $13.56 an hour, plus mileage, while he trains at Bates Technical School for certification as a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning mechanic. He is guaranteed a job through Aug. 31, 1997, as long as he gets certified and abides by the terms of the agreement.

Tags: lawsuit