Northeast Tarrant

Former teacher’s aide at Colleyville Heritage sues alleging age discrimination, retaliation

A former teacher’s aide at Colleyville Heritage High School is suing the Grapevine-Colleyville school district.
A former teacher’s aide at Colleyville Heritage High School is suing the Grapevine-Colleyville school district. sengelland@star-telegram.com

A former teacher’s aide at Colleyville Heritage High School has sued the Grapevine-Colleyville school district, claiming she was harassed by a co-worker and was forced to resign after lodging a complaint.

She alleges that she is a victim of age and disability discrimination and retaliation.

Rayna Herrick, 77, worked for eight years as a paraprofessional who provided one-on-one assistance for special-needs students.

Herrick said she was forced to resign in November 2014 in retaliation for lodging a complaint of harassment against a co-worker, who is identified in the lawsuit as Tammy. In her suit, filed in a Tarrant County court, she is seeking $200,000 to $1 million.

We teach our kids not to bully and to report it. We don’t take it out on them.

Rayna Herrick, former teacher’s aide at Heritage

“I loved it and I would still be doing it today if this didn’t happen,” Herrick said in an interview. “We teach our kids not to bully and to report it. We don’t take it out on them.”

School district officials said in a statement, “GCISD has received the paperwork and our legal team is evaluating it. We are firm in our belief that we have followed the law. As this is a personnel matter, GCISD cannot comment further.”

‘Many negative comments’

According to court documents, the harassment began in 2013 after Herrick returned to work following a brief absence for treatment of breast cancer. She had some medical restrictions but could perform her job with “reasonable accommodations.”

A co-worker complained that Herrick was not doing her job and that a 75-year-old woman in her condition should just retire, according to the lawsuit. The co-worker made “many negative comments” about Herrick’s condition and age and was suspected of moving Herrick’s chair in the break room every day to harass her. Herrick used the back of the chair for her coat.

In August 2014, Herrick learned that she was cancer-free. She claims the co-worker told her, “Maybe you can do your job now,” according to the lawsuit.

When Herrick told a vice principal, identified as Amy Dill, about the harassment, she was told to put her complaints in writing. On Oct. 29, 2014, Herrick submitted a letter describing the co-worker’s conduct. A few days later, she found that the hood of her coat — hanging on her chair in the break room — was filled with hand sanitizer.

On Nov. 14, 2014, Herrick was called into a meeting with the vice principal and a representative from the school district’s human resources department. She was told that her complaint had led them to an investigation that showed that she was incorrectly filling out her time card.

Herrick stated that all of them had been filled out in the same manner for the past eight years. She was told she could resign or be fired, so she resigned. The next Monday, her job was given to the co-worker against whom the complaint was filed, according to the lawsuit.

Not eligible for retirement

Susan Hutchison, Herrick’s attorney, said her client first filed claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Texas Workforce Commission. After six months with no resolution, she sued, Hutchison said.

She is seeking lost wages, compensatory damages — including future negative financial impact, mental anguish and suffering — and attorney fees.

“The whole reason we have anti-retaliation laws is so employees would feel free to report discrimination in the workplace,” Hutchison said. “If you make the person reporting the claim the target of an investigation, that is, on the face of it, retaliation.”

Herrick said she had planned to work two more years at least, so she could be eligible for the Texas Teachers Retirement System.

Herrick said she had planned to work two more years at least to be eligible for the Texas Teachers Retirement System. She taught for more than 20 years in Washington state before moving to Texas.

Cheryl Mehl, an attorney with an Austin firm that specializes in school law, said the law limits the amount a plaintiff can receive when suing school districts.

The Civil Rights Act of 1991 limits compensatory damages to $300,000 for an employer with more than 500 employees. That amount does not include lost pay or attorney fees.

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