A former Palo Alto High computer science teacher and robotics coach who resigned in 2018 has filed a lawsuit against the school district, alleging Palo Alto Unified failed to address harassment and retaliation that created a hostile work environment.
The district placed Kathleen Krier on paid leave in October 2018 following concerns voiced by students on the robotics team, including two formal complaints filed through the district's Uniform Complaint Procedure. As the team's new coach at the time, Krier clashed with students and parents over tightening safety procedures in the campus lab, which has a strong student-led culture. She resigned the week after she was placed on administrative leave.
Krier's complaint alleges that she was discriminated against based on her gender and sexual orientation (she identifies as a lesbian) and that the Paly robotics Boosters group retaliated against her for making efforts to diversify the team. She is seeking at least $450,000 in damages as well as attorney fees.
Superintendent Don Austin said the district has not yet been served with the lawsuit but that General Counsel Komey Vishakan is reviewing it and will provide an update.
Krier also filed in October a separate civil lawsuit against eight robotics parents and 40 unnamed defendants, alleging they interfered with her employment by trying to remove her as head coach. In this case, she's seeking $600,000 in damages as well as legal costs.
In August 2018, at a meeting held for Krier to meet the robotics students for the first time, Boosters members were also in attendance. One told her that a woman could not be a robotics coach and another repeatedly referred to Krier as "he" or "him," according to the lawsuit. These and other remarks "encouraged bias against and harassment" against Krier, her lawsuit alleges.
A few days later, she found a gay pride flag in her office had been broken and was in the trash, according to the lawsuit.
Krier said when the district hired her as head robotics coach, she was asked to address safety problems that had caused student injuries and the team's lack of diversity.
As Krier made the effort to increase diversity among the students in the robotics program, she said she saw discrimination against and harassment of female and minority students. In September 2018, she proposed seven to nine students to be selected for the 2018-19 team, students who she said would have diversified the team. The lawsuit states that the current robotics students chose two of them after a discussion that was "derogatory" and "highly offensive" to Krier.
After this meeting, she drove home and took a nap. Afterward, she discovered her car windshield had been broken, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit describes the student complaints as a pressure campaign and retaliation led by some team members and Booster parents who wanted to remove her from her position as coach.
Krier alleges her supervisors at Paly and other administrators should have known about the alleged harassment and failed to address it.
"PAUSD, through its officers, directors, managing agents, or supervisory employees, intentionally created or knowingly permitted working conditions to exist that were so intolerable that a reasonable person in (Krier's) position would have had no reasonable alternative except to resign," the lawsuit states. She "resigned because of those working conditions."