A former Benson High School teacher who openly protested Planned Parenthood, based on his Catholic beliefs, filed a $390,000 lawsuit Wednesday against Portland Public Schools claiming he was wrongly booted from the district.
Former math teacher Bill Diss, who as a devout Catholic attends daily mass, claims that his free speech rights were violated, he was discriminated against because of his religious beliefs and he was wrongfully discharged after more than a decade of teaching at the school.
According to his 38-page suit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court:
Diss’ troubles with the district began in February 2007 when he actively began to protest plans for a Planned Parenthood headquarters in Northeast Portland. Media started calling the school asking for Diss, and he was interviewed by TV and radio reporters, according to the suit.
“As the attention mounted, the plaintiff was summoned for questioning by Benson High School administrators,” reads the suit. “He was interrogated about his activities by the principal and by an attorney for the District.
The activities in question occurred on his own time, not at school, nonetheless he was specifically instructed not to mention the fact that he was a teacher or where he worked when making public statements.”
Schools spokeswoman Christine Miles said Thursday that "the school district believes the allegations he has brought up in a legal matter do not have merit, and we will continue through the process to prove that."
Although Miles didn't elaborate beyond that, in a letter from the district, which Diss provided to The Oregonian in 2013, the district stated that Diss had shown "unprofessional, intimidating and/or harassing behavior."
In a 2013 story on OregonLive.com, Diss conceded that he talked about Planned Parenthood and his religious beliefs in class, but he didn't stop students from expressing their own views.
On Sept. 17, 2012, employees from Planned Parenthood Columbia-Willamette showed up to his tutorial class to talk to students about their sexual activities and methods of contraception, according to the suit.
“This knowledge surprised (Diss) and caused him serious emotional distress,” reads the suit. He later learned that Planned Parenthood would continue to visit his classroom throughout the rest of the school year -- and he would have to continue to “facilitate their interactions with students,” the suit states.
His request to be excused from those presentations was denied by school administration, according to the suit.
Diss grew more concerned when he saw Planned Parenthood offer students food and gift certificates to attend its optional Teen Outreach Program -- and promise students up to $30 cash to complete a survey on their sexual activities, the suit states. The program focuses on preventing teen pregnancy and improving academic success, according to Planned Parenthood's website.
People he knew in the Vietnamese community also told him that promotional material written in Vietnamese and passed out by Planned Parenthood wrongly stated that Diss supported the organization’s Teen Outreach Program, the suit states.
In 2012, Diss was quoted in an Oregonian news story saying he'd been suspended for a day in October 2012 for refusing to let the Teen Outreach Program presenters into his classroom.
“Because (Diss) expressed his opposition to the activities of Planned Parenthood at Benson High School, he became a target of” the administration, the suit reads. “They launched a full-scale assault on the plaintiff as a teacher. He was observed and evaluated on the most minute aspects of his teaching.”
The suit states that in fall 2012, Vice Principal Jeandre Carbone wrote him an email asking him to stop using “God Bless” in his communications with her, staff, parents and students.
Things kept going downhill, and by March 2013 the school board decided not to extend his contract, which ran through June 2014, according to the suit. That same month a police officer escorted him off school grounds, and he was told not to return to school for any reason, the suit states.
At a pre-termination hearing last year, multiple administrators testified that Diss was often rude to students and had a pattern of behavior that was damaging to his relationships with students and co-workers.
But at a December 2013 school board meeting over whether to dismiss Diss, several supporters defended him and criticized the board. Others held "We Love Mr. Diss" signs. Even so, the school board voted 6-1 to terminate his contract, with board member Steve Buel dissenting.
The suit states Diss lost his job despite for years having received proficient or better -- even exceptional -- ratings in job performance reviews.
Diss, who lives in Beaverton, is seeking $90,000 in economic damages for lost past wages and benefits. He’s also seeking $300,000 for emotional distress.
The suit was filed by attorney Rebekah Millard at the Life Legal Defense Foundation in Springfield.
The suit states Diss believes Planned Parenthood commits many “grave moral evils” and promotes “sexual behaviors which his religious tenets characterized as deviant."
-- Aimee Green
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