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Ronald Reece v. Pocatello/Chubbuck School District No. 25

March 4, 2011

RONALD REECE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
POCATELLO/CHUBBUCK SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 25, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: B. Lynn Winmill Chief Judge U.S. District Court

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is Plaintiff Ronald Reece's Motion for a New Trial (Dkt. 71). Reece sued the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District No. 25, alleging that the District retaliated against him for reporting student allegations of sexual harassment by reassigning him to a new school and new subjects. Reece's claims against the District were tried before a jury in October 2010, and the jury found in favor of the District. Reece now moves the Court for an order granting a new trial pursuant to Rule 59(a)(1)(A) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on the grounds that the verdict in this case was against the weight of the evidence. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will deny Reece's request for a new trial.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Ronald Reece started working for the School District in 1994 as a "Keyboarding I" instructor at Hawthorne Middle School. Following the 2006-2007 school year, Reece was reprimanded and involuntarily reassigned from Hawthorne to teach Geography and Study Skills at Franklin Middle School.

Reece was reprimanded and reassigned to Franklin after he reported female student allegations of improper sexually-oriented conduct by Hawthorne Principal Douglas Reader. At trial, Reece testified that he first learned of the allegations through his colleague, Hawthorne Math teacher, Cindy Lovell. Ms. Lovell had gathered 24 statements written by female students complaining of sexual harassment by Mr. Reader. According to Reece, Ms. Lovell first approached him with these statements on May 7, 2007. Reece insisted that he had played no role in obtaining or gathering the statements, and testified that he knew nothing of the statements prior to May 7, 2007.

That same day -- May 7, 2007, Reece and Lovell handed over the statements to Reece's brother, Norman Reece, an attorney. Norman Reece immediately delivered the statements to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, and the Department contacted local law enforcement. Reece also hand delivered the statements to Bob Devine, Director of Secondary Education, at the District's Administrative offices.

His delivery to Mr. Devine, however, contained more than the student statements.

It also included two letters: one Reece drafted dated May 7, 2007, and another letter dated April 26, 2006, signed by a first-year teacher, H. Mercedes Nelson. The letters criticized Reader's management style. The teachers' letters did not relate to the student allegations of sexually harassing conduct by Mr. Reader, with the exception of one comment by Nelson that she had overheard a student say she would not try out for cheerleading because she did not want Reader "checking me out."

Both local law enforcement and the District immediately commenced investigations into the issues raised by the materials Reece had presented. On May 24, 2007, the police investigators submitted a copy of an investigative report to the Pocatello City Prosecutor's office. The Prosecutor's office declined to pursue criminal charges against Reader.

Counsel for the District, Brian K. Julian, and the Director of Human Resources, Douglas Howell, Ed.D, conducted the investigation on behalf of the District. The District's investigation consisted of interviewing most of the students involved and members of the Hawthorne staff. Dr. Howell drafted a 20-page report detailing the persons interviewed and his conclusions.

The District's investigation into the allegations against Reader resulted in the issuance of a "Notice of Reprimand and Notice of Reassignment" against Reece, on June 12, 2007. Trial Ex. 1012. Dr. Howell, writing on behalf of the District, stated:

During the investigation an alarming pattern of misconduct was discovered involving another teacher and yourself. ...It is clear that you had discussed and conspired with another teacher in order to paint the Principal in a very damaging light....However, it is simply too great of a coincidence that the only to teachers in the entire school that had verbal complaints about the management style of the Principal were the instigators of the solicitation of the student complaints.

Id. Dr. Howell further explained that the District also suspected Reece had violated federal law, State Board of Education regulations, and local School Board policy by sharing a students disciplinary file with his attorney and by failing to ...


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