Billings Schools Settle Lawsuit Filed by Former Soccer Coach

October 19, 2007

A teacher and former Billings, Mont., Senior High girls’ soccer coach has agreed to a $50,000 settlement in her federal lawsuit alleging the district discriminated against her because of her gender.

The payment to LeAnne Wickun will come from the district’s insurance company. Top district administrators will receive training in nondiscrimination laws, and the district also agreed to review its sports activities programs before the end of this school year to make sure they adhere to state anti-discrimination laws.

“I guess I feel vindicated, again,'” Wickun said. “I feel like the settlement is a good start in addressing some of the problems that exist.”

Wickun’s attorney, Tim Kelly of Emigrant, said the settlement includes provisions that should protect the district and its employees from similar claims in the future.

Attorney John Crist of Billings, who represented the district, said the settlement was reached through a federal mediator on Sept. 17. The district admits no liability as part of the agreement.

The federal lawsuit was filed in July 2006, but the dispute stretches back to December 2004, when Wickun was asked to resign as soccer coach. Wickun, who had been coaching since 1999, refused. The following spring, when the one-year contract was considered, the district hired a man who was not a teacher in the district to replace her.

Wickun filed a complaint with the state Human Rights Bureau alleging gender discrimination, but an investigator found insufficient evidence to support the claim. At about the same time, the Billings Education Association successfully filed a grievance on Wickun’s behalf, and in 2006 she was reinstated to the coaching position with back pay.

But in September 2006, Wickun was suspended from the coaching job based on complaints from parents who said Wickun cut their daughters from the team in retaliation for their participation as witnesses in the human rights case. A settlement reached a week later resulted in Wickun returning to the coaching position for the rest of the 2006 season and the reinstatement of the girls. Wickun also agreed not to seek a coaching position in the district for two years.

Meanwhile, Wickun filed the federal lawsuit claiming the school district violated state and federal protections against discrimination.

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