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Former Paly robotics coach files lawsuit alleging harassment, discrimination

Clash between Kathleen Krier and robotics team in 2018 detailed in new court filings

Kathleen Krier, center, attends Palo Alto High School's Centennial March on Oct. 7, 2018. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

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.

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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."

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Former Paly robotics coach files lawsuit alleging harassment, discrimination

Clash between Kathleen Krier and robotics team in 2018 detailed in new court filings

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Oct 27, 2020, 9:44 am

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."

Comments

Citizen
Registered user
College Terrace
on Oct 27, 2020 at 10:00 am
Citizen , College Terrace
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 10:00 am
24 people like this

I understood that Krier was hired by PAUSD w out having the requisite certification required for teaching computer science and that was a big part of the reason she had to go. Beyond that I understood she made racist and discriminatory remarks to students, which prompted their complaints. Parents stood up for their kids and spoke up on their behalf, is what I understood.


Samuel L
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 27, 2020 at 11:16 am
Samuel L, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 11:16 am
17 people like this

It sounds entirely believable that parents and students made her life uncomfortable enough to push her over the edge. Doesn't excuse her behavior. Also, the Paly administrators seem to have asked her to increase the diversity in the program and when she did that and received push back from parents/students, the administration threw her under the bus using her outbursts as their excuse.

Paly has long been a place where the administration doesn't do anything until a big enough stink is made of the situation. Students had to go to a board meeting to be heard when the administration ignored them. Then, once it became public, they got rid of Krier. Same thing happened with the Water Polo coach. Parent made a public stink and they fired the coach to appease the parent.

Yet, when students are assaulted, the school protects the aggressors and not the victims. When students get injured, it's the students that get blamed. It's never the fault of the school and the culture they've developed by allowing programs, such as Robotics and Athletics to run without proper oversight from the administration. Gunn Robotics had a Title IX issue last year that was also covered by this paper.

Maybe if the administrators did their job and paid attention to what was actually going on in the extracurricular activities, these issues wouldn't continue to happen.


Curious
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 27, 2020 at 11:41 am
Curious, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 11:41 am
26 people like this

Under California Ed code, diversity is not a factor to be used for inclusion in a competitive, cut team. Does Debate or any athletics teams have diversity quotas at Paly? Seems this coach and school admin might have been involved in pushing something against the rules. When they were called out, they blamed students and parents. More investigation into forcing these quota might be needed. Additionally, I believe the complaints against her that were filed were for behavior and that is what students said at the Board meeting where they presented a petition. This was a terrible hire from PAUSD and terrible handling of the situation which families that stood up to her are still paying for.


compliance
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2020 at 12:08 pm
compliance, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 12:08 pm
11 people like this

@Curious exactly. The way the coach tried to increase diversity was not compliant with the law. I don't know the exact board policy / ed code. Like even if both the coach and students wanted to accept certain students to reach diversity targets, it still wouldn't be allowed. Who told her this was a good idea, and then to publicly defend it and get quoted in articles?

The story I heard was that both the coach and the administrators were new at the time, and neither knew how the robotics team worked. It's one thing if the coach were trying to make informed and methodical improvements. But from what I was told she doubled back on her policies repeatedly, citing new directives from admin. She pushed out the mentors that the students went to for help and the students were left without a voice. They went to Paly admin, filed complaints, but were brushed off for weeks. So eventually it went public.


compliance
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2020 at 12:21 pm
compliance, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 12:21 pm
6 people like this

Also regarding her certification, she had a CTE Information and Communication Technologies teaching credential. That does authorize her to teach computer science, so Paly didn't technically do anything wrong there. Web Link

The requirements for getting a CTE credential versus a single subject credential in math or the supplementary CS authorization are different though. Some teachers happen to have both, but many do not.


Curious
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 27, 2020 at 1:57 pm
Curious, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 1:57 pm
10 people like this

Ok, thinking about this more there are a number of troubling factors - was this coach really asked by Paly admin to impose diversity quotas on the Robotics team? Did the district know about this? Were the quotas also pushed on other teams at Paly? We have not heard about any other after school competitive teams having quotas forced on them by the school or coaches. So was Robotics specifically targeted by the school? Why? Seems like the Robotics parents might have a lawsuit of their own to file. Will the systemic racism in PAUSD finally be exposed?


compliance
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2020 at 2:06 pm
compliance, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 2:06 pm
5 people like this

There is a distinction between quotas and goals/targets. This was affirmative action to meet goals/targets. Quotas are inflexible requirements. Neither are acceptable in this case, but the distinction is nevertheless important. In other situations, one can be legal while the other is not.

Also, relevant board policy and CCR:
6145 BP: Web Link
5 CCR § 4925: Web Link
"A local agency shall not provide or otherwise carry out any of its extracurricular programs or activities separately, or require or refuse participation therein by any of its students on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender, ethnic group identification, race, ancestry, national origin, religion, color, or mental or physical disability."


cmarg
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2020 at 2:42 pm
cmarg, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 2:42 pm
9 people like this

Why is she not suing the Paly Booster parents? It seems like if they were the ones who were rude to her, then why isn't she going after the parents versus the School District? Seems like that would be the correct group for her to push back.


momoftwo
Registered user
Greenmeadow
on Oct 27, 2020 at 3:36 pm
momoftwo, Greenmeadow
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 3:36 pm
4 people like this

@cmarg- The article says she’s is suing the parents because she said they wouldn’t let her push through diversity targets. She is suing the district for not stopping the parents and listening to their complaints. In the end, the parents and district agreed she was not suitable for the job though so I guess I that is why she is suing both.


team 8
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2020 at 5:50 pm
team 8, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Oct 27, 2020 at 5:50 pm
57 people like this

There were a lot of things that went wrong that fall. We were honestly excited about having a new coach and a fresh start, but it just went downhill so quickly. From day one, she assured us it was our robotics team and fully student-run, but that is not how it felt to us during those two months.

New policies were put in place without talking to any of us. Every time it was just because admin had said so or because they were the bosses. The policies changed constantly too because the people making them had no clue about the robotics program. Paly admin had never taken an interest in the robotics team, and several of the administrators were new that year.

For example the policy on what certifications adults needed to supervise lab hours and how many supervisors were required must have changed like 3-4 times. At the start, the coach told us that parents didn't need to help supervise anymore and teachers would cover all of our requested lab hours. We asked if she was sure since it was a lot of lab time, but we were told everything would be handled. Then it had to be a CTE teacher opening lab.
Then she got upset because no one was helping cover lab hours and it was a lot for one person. We had literally said this would be a problem, but there still was no room for any two-way discussion. It was obviously in our interest to have a sustainable supervision policy. All of the adults kept telling us they wanted to help in any way they could. Some were even willing to go get substitute credentials and ended up doing so later in the year.

It felt like our years of experience on the team were just discounted and we had zero idea what was best. Our mentors and alumni were also driven away by the coach. These were the people we went to when we needed help, when we felt like we weren't being listened to. Some of dedicated 4+ years to the team and we knew they understood us.

Then the coach started really being mean. Some students were told they could be kicked off the team, or security called on them. Apparently it was because they weren't respecting her authority. But she wasn't listening to anything any of us had to say. So many different people tried to get through to her in many different ways. Team morale dropped super low during this time and a lot of us wanted to quit.

Team leads went to several different Paly administrators to explain the concerns and really just get across the point that including students in conversations would make the situation a lot better. But the response was always we'll look into it. We went to the parents for help, but district admin deflected and Paly admin just pushed them out. One of our captains filed a complaint, but nothing happened. We tried to schedule a meeting with Paly admin, students, and parents, but it got canceled the day of. So eventually some of our team members and parents ended up at a board meeting. It was a very simple ask we had at that point: we wanted her to step down from robotics head coach duties. Nothing more.

No one was happy when Ms. Krier's flag was found broken and we asked around a lot but it honestly could have been anyone, and given the circumstances there's a good chance they weren't even on robotics. And it's frustrating to see the claim about the parent used the wrong pronouns because for some of the parents English wasn't their first language and they make that mistake involuntarily. That this is being spun to portray the team as anti-lgbtq+ is really just disheartening. It's so far from the truth.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 28, 2020 at 1:25 am
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Oct 28, 2020 at 1:25 am
7 people like this

Such uproar over this team. Sigh. Yeah, I know your Ivy and Harvard apps are very important to you, and mom and dad.
I also believe teaching staff hires should be done carefully.
Teachers get tenure super quick here.
I have long promoted a system of master teacher level, based on merit, accomplishemwnt, teaching skill, but that won’t fly with politically all powerful state of CA teacher union system where everyone is the same by decree (...though they’re not. Some teachers are outstanding and they should be rewarded. Union seniority/ years of service is not merit based, one knows). Teachers should be professional and recognized as such. Incompetent or cruel teachers should be dismissed. So much for the pipe dream -


Educator
Registered user
Midtown
on Nov 1, 2020 at 9:15 am
Educator, Midtown
Registered user
on Nov 1, 2020 at 9:15 am
9 people like this

Anonymous- you are showing extreme callousness towards a group of students who have a passion they want to follow. I spent time with robotics team members at both high schools. Most are not doing it for college. They are spending all of their spare time there, sometimes five+ hours after school, because they love robotics.

You have a separate complaint about teachers. It takes three years and nine formal observations to get tenure, so I wouldn’t call that easy. I do agree it should be easier to release bad teachers though.


Palo Alto Res
Registered user
Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2020 at 10:55 pm
Palo Alto Res, Downtown North
Registered user
on Nov 3, 2020 at 10:55 pm
9 people like this

Who hired this "teacher" who lacked certification?
That person who approved the hire and hired this unqualified person should be held responsible and fired from their PAUSD position.

Stop hiring unqualified people to teach our students! They will be incompetent and lead to being fired.

Who did this "lovely" hire? I heard she couldn't even program and was coaching the Computer science team.


so sad
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 6, 2020 at 9:27 pm
so sad, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Nov 6, 2020 at 9:27 pm
10 people like this

When people falsely use their protected class to file a lawsuit based on their personal inadequacies, it's a travesty to all of those folks who have legitimate claims. She needs to accept that she was not qualified for the job(s) and move on, instead of looking for deep pockets and someone to blame. Having had experience as a parent on a couple of different local robotics teams and also knowing that it is not uncommon for people who speak Chinese to use he/she, him/her interchangeably because those pronouns do not exist in that language, I find Team 8's account of what happened totally believable. It surprises me that an educated person living in the Bay Area and working with a population that is of Asian heritage, that she would not know that or that she is shamefully using that as a reason to file a lawsuit. I think that speaks volumes for her character.


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