A three-year legal battle between the Richland School District and its former superintendent ousted after his affair with a district employee has ended, at least for now.
Last week, Jim Busey voluntarily dismissed a marital discrimination claim that he had filed in federal court related to his termination in January 2013. It was the only remaining claim that he had out of five he initially filed, and it was scheduled to go to trial in early May.
Busey withdrew one other claim earlier this year, but a judge tossed out the others.
The district reached no settlement and paid no money to Busey as a result of the claims, said the district’s attorney, Michael McFarland of Spokane.
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Busey’s attorney, Brian Iller of Kennewick, declined to talk about about his client’s marital discrimination claim, which McFarland said cannot be refiled because it has passed the statute of limitations.
However, Iller said Busey will appeal recent rulings on claims pertaining to how the district handled his firing, and its contention that Busey is still technically employed by the district.
“We’re disappointed in the trial court decision,” Iller said about the claims being appealed. “We believe the (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals) will disagree with the trial court.”
But school board President Rick Jansons said he’s happy with the current resolution.
“We did what we believed was in the best interest of the district,” he said. “The board was confident, I was confident, we’d done things properly.”
We did what we believed was in the best interest of the district. The board was confident, I was confident, we’d done things properly.
Rick Jansons, president Richland School Board
Busey was dismissed for violating his contract’s morality clause for an extramarital affair with a district employee, conducted with the aid of district email accounts and a district-provided cellphone. Busey and the woman met during school hours, often during lunch breaks and to sometimes have sex during school hours but not on district property.
His dismissal also stemmed from “threats to misrepresent” the district, district officials said, including a claim that the board hid money in its budget and overestimated the money needed in a $98 million bond measure.
Busey and his attorney have said the relationship with the woman was consensual and the district already had looked into it and found no concerns in fall 2012. Only after the Herald reported on the relationship in the weeks before Christmas did the board review the matter again and decide to fire him.
Busey also claimed he was discriminated against by being fired because of his marital status, while the other employee wasn’t disciplined.
His lawsuit sought more than $1 million in damages, and he filed claims saying he was denied due process, that the district violated the state’s wage laws and public records act and that he be affirmed as a district employee, along with his claim of marital discrimination.
Busey is now living in Chelan, where he was superintendent before coming to Richland. He has sought jobs in education since he was dismissed but has remained unemployed.
Jim Busey was dismissed for violating his contract’s morality clause for an extramarital affair with a district employee, conducted with the aid of district email accounts, a district-provided cellphone and during work hours.
U.S. Judge Tom Rice dismissed in December the wage claim and Busey’s assertion that he was still a district employee because he was improperly fired.
“A bona fide dispute existed as to (Busey’s) continued employment relationship with the school district; thus, no reasonable jury could find willful withholding of wages here, “ Rice said in his order.
In February, Busey withdrew his public records claim. Then in mid-March, Rice reconsidered, at the district’s request, an earlier ruling he’d made allowing Busey’s due process claim to move forward and dismissed that as well.
Rice determined that despite Jansons saying on Jan. 22, 2013, that Busey was “terminated immediately,” Busey still had a chance to request a pre-termination hearing from an independent hearing officer until Feb. 15, 2013, which he did not do.
In Busey’s view, the district’s post-termination offer of a hearing was too late. The horse was out of the barn.
Busey’s attorney, Brian Iller
“Even if Mr. Jansons, who had provided statements to several press outlets, had said that Dr. Busey’s termination was ‘effective immediately,’ the final termination decision was not his or the board’s to make,” Rice wrote in that more recent ruling. “Rather, even if the board’s mind was made up, an independent hearing officer would be responsible for the final decision.”
Iller said he plans to assert the initial evidence he provided for Busey’s due process claim on appeal — that the district did not provide proper written notice of Busey’s termination and an interview Busey had with a representative of the district’s insurer before his termination did not satisfy his rights.
“In Busey’s view, the district’s post-termination offer of a hearing was too late,” Iller said. “The horse was out of the barn.”
Jansons said he did not know what the legal cost was for the district’s defense, though “without looking at numbers, I’d say the bulk of this was covered by insurance.”
Staff time and other indirect expenses were also incurred, but none of the district’s money has gone to Busey since his last paycheck was cut at the end of February 2013.
“I’m glad it’s behind us,” Jansons said. “We’re moving on.”