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Kotan v. School District No. 110C

April 23, 1973


Appeal from Circuit Court, Linn County. Wendell H. Tompkins, Judge.

John S. Horton, Albany, argued the cause for appellants. With him on the brief were Weatherford, Thompson, Horton & Jordan, P.C., Albany.

James C. Goode, Albany, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Goode, Goode, Decker & Hinson, Albany.

Fort, Judge. Schwab, Chief Judge, and Langtry, Judge.


This is a suit in which the defendant School District No. 110C, et al, appeals the trial court's decree which ordered the reformation of the employment contract between the district and plaintiff, Willette H. Kotan, and awarded plaintiff damages for defendants' breach thereof.

Defendants operate a four-classroom elementary school in Crabtree, Linn County, with an enrollment varying between 70 and 80 students. During the 1970-71 school year there were three teachers, one of whom also acted as the principal.

However, defendant board decided to increase the teaching staff for the 1971-72 school year in order to accommodate the anticipated growth from a local housing development. Aside from plaintiff, defendant board hired four teachers. The board thereupon increased the budget for principal and teachers from approximately $27,000 to approximately $45,000. The anticipated growth did not occur. The enrollment remained between 70 and 80 during the 1971-72 school year.

On April 1, 1971, the board first interviewed and immediately hired plaintiff. There is a conflict in the evidence regarding the extent to which plaintiff was hired to teach. However, defendants concede plaintiff was also hired as the school's principal.

On April 6, 1971, plaintiff signed a form "Teacher's Contract" which described her job as including only teaching duties.

During the summer plaintiff attended all board meetings and prepared as principal such things as a Title I ESEA funding application which was approved, calendar schedules, report card date schedules and the Crabtree school policy and policy checklist. Plaintiff also obtained a list of the teachers and corresponded with them during July in her capacity as principal.

On August 24 the board accepted the resignation of one of the teachers, Mrs. Wilson. J. W. Hanslovan, then the school board chairman, testified he told plaintiff later that Mrs. Wilson had told him her reason for resigning was an inability to work with plaintiff.

The only specific reasons given by Mrs. Wilson, according to Mr. Hanslovan, regarding her conflict with plaintiff were that apparently Mrs. Wilson disliked the desk arrangement and the reading list as established by the plaintiff. The defendant board was unaware of the extent of prior contact between Mrs. Wilson and plaintiff, which the only evidence showed was but one informal 15-minute conversation. Neither Mrs. Wilson nor any other school teacher was called by defendants to support the claim plaintiff would not or could not get along with them. None of the teachers testified at all.

The board then discussed with and plaintiff objected

to the possibility of her assuming some of Mrs. Wilson's teaching duties. However, the housing development was not progressing as expected and so the board decided to "wait and see" on the school's actual enrollment before deciding who, if anyone, would replace Mrs. Wilson. It then determined to ask Mrs. Kotan to teach a regular class.

In preparation for the commencement of classes on September 7, 1971, plaintiff prepared orientation for the teachers, and on August 30 an introduction, orientation and workshop was held with Mrs. Kotan presiding. This lasted approximately four to five hours. Plaintiff next saw the teachers again on Friday, September 3, during a three-hour session discussing school policy matters.

That night, without any notice to plaintiff, a special board meeting was held at which the remaining teachers threatened to resign unless plaintiff was terminated. The board thereupon decided to request plaintiff's resignation because of her "inability to communicate and demonstrate leadership."

The following day another special meeting was held during which defendant board asked for plaintiff's resignation. Plaintiff was told only that there was a personality clash between her and the teachers and that they objected to her request for the filling of class schedules and individual biographical sketches. The plaintiff refused the request and stated she intended to be at school opening day on September 7. The board thereupon told her she would not have any further authority as principal or teacher. At no time did the board interview Mrs. Kotan or the teachers in the presence of each other.

Plaintiff appeared for work on September 7

and was instructed by Mr. Hanslovan to sit in the teacher's room, where she remained unoccupied the entire day. That evening there was another board meeting during which one of the teachers, Mr. Carr, was appointed full-time principal and instructed to give plaintiff a teaching assignment. There is conflicting evidence concerning plaintiff's failure to teach as requested by Mr. Carr. Then, on September 13, pursuant to legal advice, the board for the first time sent plaintiff written notice of her dismissal, this time stating the grounds to be "inefficiency, insubordination, neglect of duty, and ...

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