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Vice principal sues Kansas school district claiming military status discrimination

Discrimination (Nick Youngson/Blue Diamond Gallery)

A high school vice principal who is also a National Guard officer claims in a federal lawsuit that his school district discriminated against him based on his military status.

Edward Raschen, vice principal of Labette County High School in Altamont, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Wichita on Wednesday against USD 506. He is asking a federal judge to order the school district to pay damages and comply with employment law after alleged violations of the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act and the Kansas anti-discrimination statute.

School board president Jessie Foister, superintendent John Wyrick and high school principal Shane Holtzman did not respond to a request for comment on Raschen’s lawsuit.

Raschen, of Coffeyville, is a captain in the Kansas Army National Guard who was hired by the district in 2012. He was deployed overseas in summer 2017, during his second year as assistant principal and athletic director. But when he returned from his military service in spring 2018, Raschen says, the school district refused to let him return to his role as athletic director. Additionally, the school district told him that he would not receive full pay.

After returning to the country but while still on military leave, Raschen was asked to attend a school district meeting. The lawsuit alleges that the superintendent then berated him about his military service in front of other faculty members.

On Raschen’s first official day back to work, the principal told him that he would not be athletic director so that his job as assistant principal “was not complicated with” additional sports responsibilities, the lawsuit claims. Raschen then told his bosses that this was a violation of federal law protecting soldiers.

Raschen sought assistance from the government, and the U.S. Department of Labor began an investigation in May 2018. The lawsuit states that Raschen’s previously positive relationship with his superiors became strained and impacted his relationship with other faculty and staff.

The Department of Labor in June 2018 asked the school district to reinstate Raschen as athletic director, the lawsuit states. The district’s legal representative responded that if the federal law required Kansas schools to give soldiers back their supplemental athletic contracts after they return, “it would be a disincentive … to hire military personnel to those position(s) in the first place.”

The Labor Department continued its investigation, which led school administrators to bar him from discussions on important school business in which he was previously included, the lawsuit claims.

In September 2018, the government investigator told the district that he had found it violated USERRA, the federal law protecting the rights of service members. If the school district rehired Raschen as athletic director, the Labor Department said, then it would be back in compliance with the law. The district responded by offering to pay him the athletic director salary in lieu of actually reinstating him.

Raschen refused the offer of money, but told the district that if they would properly reinstate him as athletic director and pay him for the rest of the school year, then he would resign the position. The district refused the offer, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims that district officials inappropriately discussed the Labor Department investigation “in a negative and derogatory manner” in front of other faculty and staff. Those discussions allegedly shared Raschen’s personal and private information and created a hostile work environment.

The school board in November 2018 offered to pay Raschen $10,000 “as a show of appreciation and good will” after claiming USD 506 was proud of employees who serve in the military. Raschen refused to accept the money, which was equivalent to the old salary of the athletic director contract.

At the end of the year, Raschen was notified that he would again be called to active duty. While preparing for his upcoming military obligations, he discovered that his school tax forms showed he was paid the $10,000 that he refused to accept and was never paid. The situation didn’t improve after he returned from active duty in July 2019, the lawsuit claims.


© 2020 The Wichita Eagle