Lawsuit claims harassment by schools’ finance chief
Monday, February 25, 2013
WENATCHEE — The former director of the Wenatchee School District’s childcare program claims she was fired after suffering harassment from the district’s chief financial officer.
Keesha Knutson, 47, filed a lawsuit in October accusing Les Vandervort of inappropriate behavior toward female employees, and of engineering her wrongful termination in 2011 after 13 years with the school district.
The lawsuit, filed by Knutson’s attorney Stan Bastian of Wenatchee, names the district as the sole defendant. The district’s response, filed in December, says Knutson’s position and the child care program were eliminated solely for budgetary reasons and denies her complaints.
Knutson was originally hired to work in the childcare program at Washington Elementary School, where children could be enrolled in daycare for periods before and after regular school hours.
The program became a district-wide operation with improved learning options in 1999, where previously individual schools had run their own daycare services, and Knutson was promoted to a co-director. She also managed WestSide Early Learning Center, which provided childcare and early education for kids from infancy up to age 5 whose parents attended the alternative WestSide High School and Wenatchee Valley College.
Vandervort, 62, was among Knutson’s supervisors. Knutson claims in her suit that she received exemplary performance reviews for the first three years with the district, but that Vandervort “regularly and openly engaged in inappropriate behavior with female coworkers,” including herself.
Women who responded to these flirtations received favorable treatment, her suit alleges, while others were shut out from office social gatherings. Knutson says Vandervort offered to pay personally for classes toward her school degree, which she rejected as inappropriate. He later criticized her during a performance review for not obtaining the degree, according to the suit.
Vandervort’s behavior toward Knutson became cold after he learned she had a boyfriend, she claims. Vandervort “called her into his office and asked if she was dating someone,” according to the complaint. “When Keesha Knutson indicated that she was dating someone else, Les Vandervort asked her, ‘Do you think that is smart?’”
Knutson’s complaints to the district’s human resources office did not spur any investigation or reprimand for Vandervort, she claims.
Knutson’s dismissal and the end of the childcare program came shortly after the district announced in April 2011 it expected a $1.7 million loss, due to state budget cuts. In her suit, Knutson says she believes Vandervort “manipulated the budget to create the appearance that Keesha Knutson was mismanaging funds for the childcare program.”
Afterwards, she claimed, “some school officials told members of the public that she was discharged because she had lied on accreditation applications, misappropriated program funds, and had poor job performance. All of these allegations are untrue and false.”
The district’s response calls the lawsuit “frivolous” and denies retaliating, discriminating or creating a hostile work environment for Knutson. No trial date has been set, and no specific dollar amount is sought.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123
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