DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — Attorneys representing former Douglas County School District superintendent Corey Wise filed a discrimination charge Tuesday against the district and the four majority board members who voted to fire him, claiming his termination violates the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The DCSD Board of Education voted 4-3 to fire Wise without cause on Feb. 4.
The charge claims Wise was fired for advocating for masks in DCSD schools and his "perceived and/or actual role in developing and executing the DCSD's Educational Equity Policy."
The school board has been politically split since the most recent election. Four new school board members — school board President Mike Peterson, Vice President Christy Williams, Becky Myers and Kaylee Winegar — have taken the district in a decidedly different direction. The first policies of the new board were to rescind the district's mask policy and make major changes to its equity policy.
The charge states Wise was the subject of unlawful discrimination "for his association with youth of color, LGBTQ+ students, and students with certain disabilities that make them particularly susceptible to severe symptoms or fatality from COVID-19." Wise was associated with youth of color and LGBTQ+ students for his support of the equity policy and was associated with students with disabilities for supporting masks in schools, according to the complaint.
Days before Wise's firing, he was allegedly asked to resign by Peterson and Williams. The allegations were made public by the three school board members who are in the minority on the board — Elizabeth Hanson, Susan Meek and David Ray.
“You’re flipped upside down,” Wise said Thursday of how he felt after he was fired in his first interview with Denver7 since then. “You lose sleep. Stress. You have the gamut of grief. Anger, depression – everything.”
Robert Marshall, a Douglas County resident, filed a lawsuit against the board majority, claiming they violated Colorado Open Meeting Laws by discussing Wise's termination outside of a public meeting. A Douglas County District Court judge granted a preliminary injunction against the four majority board members, which orders them not to talk about public business or take any formal actions by three or more board members either as a group or through a series of meetings, except in public meetings that are open to the public.
The school board is still deciding whether to appeal the preliminary injunction. The March 11 special meeting to discuss whether to appeal the ruling while the rest of the case proceeds went back and forth between the majority board members, the minority of the board and special counsel representing the district in the lawsuit.
But after lawyers said they had found there was more time to prepare a possible appeal, the board decided to table the discussion until the March 23 meeting.
During that meeting, the board voted 4-3 to retain Gessler Blue LLC, a law firm including Scott Gessler, to represent both the school board and the plaintiffs in the suit — Peterson, Myers, Winegar and Williams — moving forward at a cost that is less than what the firm would typically charge. The law firm Hall and Evans LLC currently represents the school board and the individually named majority board members in the lawsuit.
The board then voted 4-3 to approve a resolution to direct its counsel to ask for a time extension on reconsidering the judge’s order or clarification of the order. The board did amend the resolution to also instruct counsel to evaluate the appropriateness of a consent decree.
According to the discrimination charge, Peterson asked Wise and Williams to meet for coffee the morning of Jan. 28. During that meeting, Peterson allegedly said that "we are looking to move into a different direction towards a new superintendent." He allegedly said that the board was interested in whether Wise would voluntarily resign.
Williams allegedly agreed. According to the charge, she told Wise "we don't want to make this super public, but we are prepared to do that if that's the direction in which it has to go."
Peterson allegedly offered to pay Wise through June 2022, urging him to accept the offer or they might have to go for cause, the charge details.
Minutes after the meeting, Wise allegedly received a text from Erin Kane, who was recently elected DCSD's next superintendent. The message contained photographs from two superintendent employment contracts, including a superintendent contract for DCSD, according to the charge.
In the school board meeting following Wise's termination, Peterson said he did call Kane a few weeks ago and asked about her willingness to apply for a superintendent position if one were available.
"A few weeks ago, I did actually call former interim-superintendent Kane and asked about her willingness, if there was a position would she be interested and willing to apply," Peterson said during the meeting. "She did say if there was a position, she would be willing to apply, and I thanked her for that. I think she would be a good candidate, but I am also open to looking at other folks."
The charge claims Wise has suffered "significant emotional distress and suffering" due to his termination. His attorneys claim Wise was deprived of "the full benefit of this contract, and of the honor of retiring with distinction from the school district that he had loyally served for over twenty-five years."
Since his firing, Wise accepted a temporary position with Jeffco Public Schools' team of community superintendents until June 30, according to the school district.
Cherry Creek Public Schools confirmed Thursday Wise will serve as the interim assistant superintendent for educational operations next school year.
On the same day his attorney's filed the discrimination charge, Wise spoke publicly to Denver7 for the first time since his firing. Click here to read his response to the situation and what he hopes will come out of the charge.