Ex-educator sues Marysville School District for alleged discrimination

The complaint alleges hostility and retaliation when Cassandra Clark raised concerns about leadership at Grove Elementary.


MARYSVILLE — A former teacher alleges the Marysville School District failed to address complaints of racial discrimination and workplace hostility by school leadership at Grove Elementary, according to a lawsuit filed in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Cassandra Clark, an assessment coordinator in the school’s Learning Assistance Program, claims repeated discrimination by Principal Jeff Ingrum. After filing formal complaints with the district in February 2022, Ingrum retaliated against her and other staffers for months, driving her to resign from the the school district, according to the lawsuit.

Early last year, Clark participated in the interview process for the Learning Assistance Program along with Ingrum. She suggested hiring a candidate of Filipino descent. Ingrum said the candidate’s accent “would impair (her) to perform the key job duties,” according to the lawsuit.

A few days later, Ingrum told Clark, who is also Filipino, he had checked the candidate’s reference and suspected the reference was not from a professional workplace based on the person’s accent, the complaint claims.

Troubled by his alleged comments, Clark went to the district’s Director of Equity Eneille Nelson, who advised her to send an email to Ingrum to caution him of his personal biases and offer to discuss the matter further, according to the complaint. Ingrum reportedly acknowledged his comments were “micro-aggressive” and said he appreciated the feedback. Clark, however, felt Ingrum and her colleagues started treating her negatively.

In early February 2022, Assistant Principal Brooke Howell suggested a new student with an immigrant background spend a day in the Learning Assistance Program, specifically the classroom for English learners instead of attending the normal curriculum, according to the lawsuit. Clark felt the student did not qualify for specialized services.

Weeks later, Howell reportedly confronted Clark, angry over the new student not being enrolled in the Learning Assistance Program services.

“Ms. Howell’s conduct was so aggressive, loud and disruptive that it was overheard by a teacher in an adjacent classroom,” according to the lawsuit. “Ms. Howell’s conduct made (Clark) fear for her safety.”

Clark filed a formal complaint against Howell with the school district’s human resources department. In the complaint, she also cited Ingrum’s behavior from the month before. The HR director advised Clark to take an uncompensated day off work after filing the complaint, according to court papers.

Upon her return, Clark felt her work was overly scrutinized.

On May 17, human resources allegedly advised Clark she was “involuntary transferred” to another school to provide Ingrum “a fresh start,” according to the lawsuit. Clark decided to resign from the school district after nine years there and find employment elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Grove teachers held a vote of “no confidence” in both Ingrum and Howell as the work environment “continued to decline,” the lawsuit says.

The previous year, 85% of teachers union members voted “no confidence” in the district’s Board of Directors, in the aftermath of racist death threats against students.

Clark sued both the school district and Ingrum for racial discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, negligent hiring and emotional distress.

District spokesperson Jodi Runyon said this week that school officials had not had a chance to review the new filing.

“At this time the District is not at liberty to comment on the personnel matters related to this active litigation,” Runyon wrote in an email.

In 2017, while Ingrum was working as an assistant principal in the Mount Vernon School District, a teacher sued him and the district alleging he retaliated against her after learning she was a gay woman. The case was dismissed “without costs to any party” in 2018.

“Any time you have a leader with a prior case, it should raise caution,” Clark’s attorney Gus Lindsey said.

The Marysville School District has faced several legal battles in the past year, including a $4.5 million settlement payment to three former students who suffered sexual abuse in the 1980s from Kurt Hollstein, a teacher and athletic director who was employed until June 2021.

“There’s something fundamentally wrong with how this school district operates,” Lindsey said. “My client wants to be compensated for what she feels to be racial discrimination and that’s what we intend to do.”

Maya Tizon: 425-339-3434; maya.tizon@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @mayatizon

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