Another judge rules Busey's lawsuit can go to trial

Tri-City HeraldJune 24, 2013 

A second federal judge has rejected the Richland School District’s attempt to move a lawsuit filed by its fired superintendent to an arbitration process instead of a trial.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice said Jim Busey’s allegation of wrongful termination falls outside his contract, despite the district’s insistence that it falls under the contract’s terms for arbitration.

“(The district’s) liability arises from independent statutory and constitutional provisions which accord (Busey) rights irrespective of the employment contract,” Rice wrote in his opinion.

The ruling is similar to that given by federal Judge Ed Shea, who ruled the same way in favor of Busey in mid-May. Shea recused himself shortly after that decision because he has family members connected to the district and wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Busey was fired in mid-January after the district said it discovered his relationship with a district employee and his attempt to pursue a relationship with a district consultant.

Along with saying Busey violated the so-called morality clause in his contract, the board said he used district-provided equipment to conduct the affair and disrupted the school where the employee worked, among other allegations.

Busey, through his attorney, has said he was discriminated against because the woman he was involved with was not fired. He claims the district denied him due process and conducted a sham investigation to find a pretense to fire him. He is seeking a minimum of $1 million in damages.

The districts has argued Busey’s case should go to arbitration because his contract, which Busey is relying on to support his arguments, requires arbitration for any conflict he has with the board. Busey’s attorney, Brian Iller, has said that clause has a narrow focus and that his client’s claims don’t fall within it.

The Richland School Board did not let Busey’s lawsuit stop it from hiring his replacement. Rick Schulte, superintendent of the Oak Harbor School District, will start July 1 as the district’s new superintendent.

As a result of Rice’s ruling, the case will proceed toward a federal trial. No trial date has been set. w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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