Harassment probe for schools pricey

Jen Nowell / Daily Post

The Palo Alto school board will discuss the hiring of a law firm Tuesday to investigate reports of sexual harassment at the district’s schools, and the firm recommended by the superintendent charges up to $350 an hour for one attorney. Superintendent Max McGee is recommending the Berkeley-based Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer. There are proposals from two other law firms, as well. Oppenheimer charges $350 an hour for her time, and her associates, Alezah Trigueros and Cara Paneblanco, charge $250 an hour, according to a report from McGee.

$180 an hour for travel time

Other charges include $180 an hour for paralegal and editing, and an additional $180 an hour for travel time.

In Oppenheimer’s proposal, she said her attorney investigators are trained and have experience in conducting Title IX investigations. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

“Our investigations are conducted and supervised by experienced employment law attorneys who have decades of experience in the field,” according to Oppenheimer’s proposal. “We are committed to providing fair and thorough investigations in as expeditious and cost effective a manner as possible.”

Trigueros would be the lead investigator and would work under Oppenheimer’s supervision. The two other law firms who submitted proposals include Sacramento-based Ellis Buehler Makus and Philadelphia-based Cozen O’Conner. Both have experience with Title IX investigations.

Ellis Buehler Makus charges $320 an for a partner’s time, $275 an hour for an associate’s time and $125 an hour for a legal support specialist.

Cozen O’Conner charges $500 an for a partner’s time and $300 an hour for an associate’s time.

The school board will discuss its options Tuesday, taking action at a later date. Under an agreement between the school district and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the district must hire an independent investigator to look into reports of sexual harassment at its high schools.

Allegations against principal

One of these includes allegations of sexual harassment from students and teachers against former Palo Alto High School Principal Phil Winston.

A report from OCR revealed that a former Paly assistant principal wrote down about 25 allegations over a three-year span. In June 2013, the former assistant principal at the school met with a district official and told him she had concerns about Winston’s conduct.

Five days after the former assistant principal reported the allegations, Winston resigned from his post, but he denied any wrongdoing. Winston cited a “life-threatening” disease for his sudden resignation.

He was reassigned to a special education teaching position, and he was paid $150,000 to leave the district in May 2015.

Read the original article here.

Carolyn Pires