Busey sues Richland School Board over firing

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 27, 2013 

Former Richland Schools superintendent Jim Busey is seeking more than $1 million in a federal lawsuit against the district and its five board members.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court. It alleges the district violated Busey's civil rights when he was fired in mid-January for violating the morals clause of his contract by having an extramarital affair with a district employee.

The $1 million claim is preliminary, as Busey still is calculating his damages, the lawsuit said. He's asking for double damages for his owed salary, punitive damages for violating his civil rights and reimbursement for his attorney fees.

Neither Busey nor his attorney, Brian Iller of Kennewick, could be reached Tuesday about the suit.

Richland School Board Chairman Rick Jansons told the Herald he had not seen the lawsuit yet, and while it wasn't unexpected, the suit is without merit.

"The board is concentrating on the superintendent search and the business of the district," Jansons said.

According to Busey's termination letter, he was removed for conducting an affair with a district employee and pursuing a romantic relationship with a district consultant, using district-provided equipment to conduct the affair and disrupting the school where the employee worked.

The board also claimed Busey threatened the district if he wasn't kept on, didn't communicate to the board his reservations about a $98 million bond measure and exposed the district to potential liability.

"Your conduct has seriously impaired your ability to function as an effective superintendent of schools," read the letter, signed by Jansons.

The lawsuit maintains that Busey's relationship with the employee was consensual, she did not report directly to him and he wasn't her supervisor. He has denied there were any other relationships.

The lawsuit paints a different picture of the timeline leading up to Busey's firing than what the district has said happened.

For example, the lawsuit claims Jansons told Busey on Nov. 21 that an investigation into the affair was complete and his job was safe.

However, Jansons told the Herald on Dec. 7 that Busey still was under investigation. Busey was placed on leave Dec. 10 and he claims the board decided Dec. 11 to fire him.

Busey's lawsuit alleges the district then conducted a "sham" investigation to justify his firing "that was designed not to produce and preserve evidence that would support a reasoned and unbiased decision by the (board)." Rather, it was meant to estrange Busey from the employee he was seeing and compel her to speak against him.

The lawsuit also says the district and board members did not give Busey proper written notice of his firing or the opportunity for a hearing in violation of his contract, and alleges the district's failure to properly fire him means he still is employed and owed his salary -- $160,730 a year.

Busey said he was discriminated against because his relationship with the employee was described as extramarital, meaning his marital status was a factor in his firing, the lawsuit said. Busey conducted the affair since the fall of 2011 and has been in divorce proceedings with his wife since November.

The suit also alleges the district violated public records laws by not fulfilling records requests on Busey's firing and by destroying documents.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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