Woodburn schools: Superintendent created 'culture of fear'
Former Woodburn School District Superintendent Oscar Moreno Gilson has formally filed a lawsuit against the district in Marion County circuit court.
The district hired Moreno Gilson to serve from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2023. The suit, filed Sept. 20, alleges that the Woodburn School Board wrongfully dismissed him on April 19 following an investigation into accusations that he was creating a hostile work environment.
The suit stated that Moreno Gilson "suffered lost wages and fringe benefits in an amount to be determined at trial. Mr. Moreno Gilson is entitled to reinstatement of his employment or in the alternative an award of lost future wages and benefits in an amount to be determined at trial."
It also said he suffered emotional stress and compensatory damages, and he seeks reimbursement of attorney fees.
Moreno Gilson has maintained that he was retaliated against after he tried to instill more accountability into the district through more extensive and timely evaluations. The school board placed him on leave on Jan. 26 and launched the investigation after a complaint was filed by the district's director of instructional services. Woodburn School Board Chair Anthony Medina said more complaints from other district staff subsequently came forward.
The suit also claims Moreno Gilson faced pushback from some district leaders when he implemented Oregon Department of Education-supported procedures to champion equity within the district, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and the "All Students Belong" rule.
Medina said the district has seen and reviewed the lawsuit.
"It emphatically and unequivocally does not reflect the true nature of the investigation, findings, and reasons for termination," Medina said. "Let me be clear, Mr. Moreno Gilson, through his actions, created a culture of fear, a hostile work environment, and engaged in retaliatory conduct in addition to violating sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation and discrimination policies, which was determined following a thorough third-party investigation.
"Subsequent complaints have only confirmed that the board took the correct action in terminating Mr. Moreno Gilson's employment," he added.
The board chair also disputed claims that suggest the district is lacking in equity and inclusion.
"The Woodburn School District upholds its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and is aghast diversity, equity and inclusion (are) being used as a scapegoat to shield from taking personal responsibility," Medina said. "The Woodburn School District stands with the multiple staff who came forward."
The district is also looking forward.
"The start of the 2021-22 school year has begun and the district's focus is on ensuring our students, staff, and community are ready to learn in a safe and welcoming environment," Medina said.
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