Pasco School District faces lawsuit for racial discrimination and retaliation

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A Latino employee has filed a complaint against the Pasco School District, saying the district did not protect employees from discrimination and retaliation. But the district claims it doesn’t tolerate discrimination.

Jose Hernandez has worked at the Pasco School District for almost 20 years. But he says when he was appointed director of transportation in 2012, he was treated with hatred because of his ethnicity.

“That first week of employment, there’s when I heard the first comment of, ‘I can’t believe that we have a [expletive] Mexican as a supervisor,'” said Hernandez.

The complaint states that numerous school district employees and supervisors subjected Hernandez to a hostile work environment based on his race.

Jay Free is Hernandez’s lawyer. He says over the years, things got worse.

“In 2016, persons had spray painted hateful graffiti on district buildings. The police investigated that as a hate crime,” said Free.

Hernandez says it’s not just him. He says Latino bus drivers have experienced similar situations.

“One driver, she was fairly new, and in some regard [spoke] limited English, made a comment on the radio for assistance. And so then the other drivers started to make fun of her accent by imitating the way she spoke on the radio. That devastated her, so I reported that,” Hernandez said.

Free says Hernandez reported these and other incidents over a period of almost ten years to his supervisors, but he says nothing was effectively addressed.

“Rather than taking those concerns seriously, they accused him of placing an intoxicated bus driver back on duty,” said Free.

Hernandez was removed from his director position and demoted in 2021.

“It feels unfair, it feels that I was demoted unjustly. It feels that not all the specifics were truly evaluated appropriately. It feels that there was a specific target, a specific goal that they were attempting to do, which was to remove me from my capacity,” Hernandez said.

In a written statement, the Pasco School District noted its record shows prompt and reasonable responses to all of Hernandez’s reports of discrimination.

The document also says the district removed Hernandez from his administrative position after he permitted a bus driver to continue working despite having a low-level of alcohol in his system.

But, Free says documents prove the opposite.

“Documents show that the bus driver tested negative for alcohol and that Mr. Hernandez followed stringent federal and state safety standards and placing the driver back on duty,” said Free.

Regarding the graffiti and other alleged incidents, the district statement says the persons responsible remain unknown, but the district enlisted law enforcement and a third-party investigator to identify and hold the responsible party accountable.

The district says measures were implemented after Hernandez’s department to improve the climate with demonstrated success. 

The discrimination case will be heard in the U.S. Eastern Washington District Court.