Jury Awards $185,000 to Former Administrator– Posted by Rachel Schleif, World Staff Writer, in Wenatchee World
WATERVILLE—A jury awarded $185,000 in damages plus attorney fees Friday to a former employee who filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Eastmont School District, according to a school district press release.
Patricia Valdez-Zontek’s claims against the school district included disparate treatment, intentional and neglectful emotional distress, defamation, invasion of privacy, retaliation and constructive discharge.
The specific claims on which the 12-person jury sided with Valdez-Zontek were unknown Saturday morning.
Valdez-Zontek, the special programs director from 1999 to 2002, says she was forced to resign by school administrators who unfairly targeted her and spread a false rumor that she was having an affair with former superintendent Joel Thaut. She filed suit against the district in 2003.
The school district attorney Jerry Moberg argued the district had the right to investigate Valdez-Zontek six years ago, when it suspected Thaut favored Valdez-Zontek and that their “unique relationship” compromised his ethics as her supervisor.
The jury, made up of five men and seven women, deliberated for two days. The trial began Feb. 4.
Superior Court Judge Evan Sperline handed the jury a special verdict form Wednesday with 15 questions to help them consider a verdict for each of Patricia Valdez-Zontek’s claims. Four questions on the jury’s verdict form pertained to damages.
During closing arguments Wednesday, Valdez-Zontek’s lawyer Robin Phillips asked the jury to recommend at least $50,000 to $75,000 for counseling and relocation costs after Valdez-Zontek resigned. That amount accounted for about one-fourth of the damages sought.
The other three-fourths of the damages included loss of reputation, emotional distress and future emotional distress, for which Phillips did not specify a dollar amount.
Valdez-Zontek’s attorney and trial fees may be “in excess of $200,000,” Phillips said in an earlier interview.
Ten of the 12 jurors had to agree in order for a verdict to be reached on the claim, Sperline said Wednesday.