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Davis Journal

Former employee files suit against Davis School District citing discrimination

Jan 18, 2024 09:05AM ● By Becky Ginos
Davis School District and three district employees have been named in a lawsuit brought by a former employee. Photo by Becky Ginos

Davis School District and three district employees have been named in a lawsuit brought by a former employee. Photo by Becky Ginos

SALT LAKE CITY—A lawsuit filed Jan. 9 against the Davis School District by a former employee hired to work on diversity and equity issues as part of a district settlement with the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleges she was discriminated against. The suit also names consultant Heidi Alder, Director of Human Resources, Suzi Jensen and District Assistant Superintendent Dr. Fidel Montero.

Dr. Joscelin Thomas, who is Black, was hired as a district coordinator in the Office of Equal Opportunity July 1, 2022 after a two-year investigation into the district by the DOJ found serious racial harassment and discrimination of Black and Asian-American students had taken place. Thomas’ employment ended June 30, 2023 when her contract was non-renewed.

The district entered into a settlement in 2021 with the DOJ that required the district to create an Office of Equal Opportunity to handle complaints of racial discrimination and to hire three District Coordinators and five School Coordinators, according to the lawsuit. 

In the lawsuit Thomas alleges that she “was treated differently than her lighter-skinned and non-black co-workers and was subject to a hostile work environment by her coworkers.”

Thomas, who holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Keiser University in Florida, said in the lawsuit that she was treated as a “subordinate, rather than a colleague,” by other District Coordinators, Michelle Medina and Caray Long. During a training for administrators, Thomas said Medina gave her a handful of garbage and instructed her to clean up the trash. When she said no it was not her job, Thomas asserts Medina was furious. 

Part of the DOJ settlement agreement required the district to hire a third-party consultant and the district hired Heidi Alder for that position. The lawsuit states during a training by Alder where the DOJ investigation was discussed, she said her first reaction to the DOJ’s findings was, “No, this is not happening, this cannot be true.”

Thomas alleges she challenged Alder and asked why that was her first reaction even though the DOJ findings were clear, Alder responded that she “had never heard anyone in the district say the ‘N-word’ and therefore it was difficult for her to believe racism was present in the district.’” From then on, Thomas said Alder was hostile toward her.

The district provided Thomas a Notice of Provisional Employment Contract Non-Renewal April 27, 2023. Thomas maintains she was given no reason for the decision. 

On May 2, 2023, Thomas set up a meeting with Jensen and told her she was being subjected to race discrimination and wanted to discuss it, the lawsuit states. Right before she was to meet with Jensen, Thomas said Montero called her into his office and put her on administrative leave pending “an investigation of a violation of standards of ethical, moral, or professional conduct,” and refused to give her any details about the allegations against her except “that her colleagues were feeling unsafe with her in the office.”

The district left Thomas on paid administrative leave for the remainder of her contract which was nearly two months, the suit states.

The Davis School District issued this statement:

Davis School District administrators, teachers, and staff stand firmly against any form of harassment or discrimination that affects a child’s learning experience in our schools. Our primary duty and responsibility is to create a safe environment for every child, employee and patron.

The district will not make comments about potential litigation.

The district does have a robust harassment and discrimination policy which it purposefully updated in August 2023. That 13-page policy follows: 

The policy references a comprehensive Harassment and Discrimination Reporting System,, which has been built by district programmers. The system is unparalleled in the State of Utah. It allows any individual to anonymously report any incident in which they believe someone was harassed or discriminated against. Every report that is received is fully investigated by a trained team within the district's Office of Equal Opportunity.  

The district also sent the following statement on discrimination and harassment to every parent, student and employee via email at the start of the school year, and also mailed the statement to the home of every parent, student and employee.

Thomas’ lawsuit requests a judgment in her favor for back and front pay, compensatory and consequential damages; appropriate equitable relief, including but not limited to reinstatement and clearing of any negative information in Thomas’ employment record and other relief.