Billings School District Agrees to Pay Record $300,000 to Former West High Principal Settling Discrimination Charges

For release March 15, 1999
9:00 p.m.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Tim Kelly, Attorney at Law
P O Box 65, Emigrant, Montana 59027
(406/333-4111) or email: tckelly@ibm.net

(Billings, MT, March 15, 1999) -- Trustees of Billings School District #2 voted this evening to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by former Billings West High School Principal, Monica Kittock-Sargent. The Board will pay Kittock-Sargent $300,000, bringing to a close a case that began nearly six years ago. The settlement comes less than a month before the case was scheduled for trial before a Montana Human Rights Commission Hearing Examiner. The payment to Kittock-Sargent is believed to be the largest settlement amount of an individual sex discrimination claim in Montana.

Kittock-Sargent was removed from her job as principal of Billings West High School in April 1993. She was the first woman and remains the only woman to have served as a high school principal in Billings, MT.

In a 1994 hearing, Kittock-Sargent proved by clear and convincing evidence that the District gave reasons for her termination that were not true. After that hearing, acting Yellowstone County Superintendent of Schools, Janet Allie, ordered the school district to reinstate Kittock-Sargent to the principal's job. That decision was upheld by State School Superintendent Nancy Keenan, and later upheld by District Court Judge G. Todd Baugh. In spite of those decisions, the School District has refused to reinstate Kittock-Sargent. The settlement means that the District will not appeal Judge Baugh's recent decision to the state Supreme Court. Kittock-Sargent, who now works as a principal of a high school in Minnesota, decided not to return to Montana and has waived her reinstatement rights under the agreement.

Kittock-Sargent said, "I hope this litigation will make a difference for women working in or aspiring to leadership roles in Billings schools. The District needs to take a long, hard look at how it treats women and minorities within the system. If this serves as a wake up call for the District, then the entire ordeal was worth it. I hope they take advantage of the opportunity to address the inequities that existed, and continue to exist, at West High School and elsewhere."

Kittock-Sargent felt that her efforts would not have been successful had it not been for those who testified on her behalf under very difficult circumstances. She said that a number of witnesses faced pressures during the hearing in 1994 not to come forward with evidence in support of her claims. "It took real courage," Kittock-Sargent said, "and we all owe them our thanks."

While at West High, Kittock-Sargent was responsible for opening up the faculty decision making processes to include women. She focused her attention on the students' needs and delivering services to meet those needs. She coordinated the first multicultural week celebration at West High and she improved safety there with the placement of a police officer in the school building. She made sure that the entire building was accessible to students with disabilities. Before her arrival, wheel-chair bound students were segregated physically at the school and had no independent access to the entire second floor of the West High building.

Kittock-Sargent also put an end to the highly controversial Letterettes tradition. The Letterettes involved young men cross-dressing as majorettes and acting out as female cheerleaders. The burlesque was criticized from several sources because it focused on ridiculing young women and their bodies. Before Kittock-Sargent arrived, the school had been put on notice that the Letterettes ran afoul of state and federal laws banning sexual harassment or intimidation in schools. After Kittock-Sargent ended the controversial practice, she was criticized by school officials for moving too quickly. In her sex discrimination case, she claimed her termination was, in part, retaliation for putting an end to the Letterettes and other discriminatory practices at the school.

Under the settlement agreement, the school district has agreed not to retaliate against any one for opposing discriminatory practices or for participating in protected civil rights activities. The district has also agreed to conduct an annual review of its compliance with the state's Human Rights Act and Governmental Code of Fair Practices.

Shortly after leaving Billings, Kittock-Sargent was employed in Wyoming as a state education program specialist. She trained high school teachers and administrators in graduation standards and teaching strategies. Since then, she has resumed her career as a high school principal in Minnesota where she was named the outstanding woman administrator of the year.

According to Carol Blades, who was Kittock-Sargent's assistant principal at West High, "the district lost more than money when it made the mistake of not supporting Monica in 1993, we also lost an invaluable resource because of prejudice. None of us - students, faculty or parents -- can afford to have the district make those kinds of mistakes in the future."

Kittock-Sargent was represented by Billings attorney Virginia A. Bryan and Tim Kelly of Emigrant. The District was represented by attorneys Lawrence Martin and Michael Rapkoch, both of Billings.