Eaglesmith to get day in court

Laura Beaton
Staff Writer

The wheels of justice may turn slowly, but, inexorably, turn they do.

  J.C. Eaglesmith, former Plumas County Community School teacher and Quincy High School varsity basketball coach, will receive his day in court May 20, 2013, his lawyer Peter Haberfeld said Nov. 13.

  A jury trial will determine the outcome of this high-profile lawsuit against the financially strapped Plumas Unified School District/County Office of Education.

  On Nov. 8, U.S. District Court Judge John A. Mendez rejected Plumas Unified School District’s efforts to dismiss the racial discrimination lawsuit filed by Eaglesmith in January 2011.

  Mendez found sufficient grounds to proceed to a jury trial.

  In his declaration in opposition to defendants’ motion for summary judgment, Eaglesmith claimed school officials intentionally discriminated against him because he is an American Indian.

  Additionally, Eaglesmith claimed that after complaining about racist incidents to district administrators, he was retaliated against.

  Mendez also found that Eileen Cox, a longtime PUSD employee and colleague of Eaglesmith’s, had shown enough evidence to pursue claims of retaliation based on her support of him, Haberfeld said.

  Mendez found “a course of conduct” by PUSD administrators that merited the continuation of her claim.

  Dr. Sue Segura, principal of QHS, and QHS athletic director Jeffrey Ray are listed as defendants in the case, along with the board of trustees of PUSD/PCOE.

  Segura and Ray stated that they were unable to comment on ongoing litigation.

  Much of the dispute involves the alleged treatment Eaglesmith claimed he received upon being rehired as varsity basketball coach.

  Haberfeld will try to convince the jury that Eaglesmith was continually discriminated against by the administration because of his race and religious beliefs.

  Eaglesmith said in his declaration that he is a spiritual advisor and leader of the Shawnee Nation – South Eastern Alliance.

  Eaglesmith, a former semi-pro basketball player and successful coach, led the Greenville Junior High School boys’ basketball team to an unprecedented 30 wins and three losses last season.

  In his declaration, Eaglesmith claimed that the assistant junior varsity coach, Howard Hughes, refused to heed his directives and repeatedly undermined his authority.

  Haberfeld said that an example of discrimination was when athletic director Jeff Ray suddenly changed the locks to keep Eaglesmith out of the physical education office, where Eaglesmith had personal items and clothing in a locker.

  Eaglesmith claimed he was unable to retrieve his personal property for five months.

  When Eaglesmith complained, Haberfeld said, he was told that he could change his clothes in a closet previously used to store chemicals. Eaglesmith told Haberfeld that the janitor told him he shouldn’t go in there because of the toxic chemicals.

  According to Haberfeld, when Eaglesmith complained again, he was told to use a room near the gym that contained a toilet, shower and a closet pole.

  Eaglesmith didn’t like either the chemical room or the toilet room, so changed his clothes in his vehicle outside the school.

  Additionally, Eaglesmith claimed he was unjustly accused of unlawful entry and stealing after the PE office was broken into and items were removed. Charges were later dropped.

  There were many other events that led to Eaglesmith finally filing his discrimination and harassment claims in January 2011, Haberfeld said.

  Eaglesmith, now 67 years old, said he “is a good old boy, but painted the wrong color,” according to Haberfeld.

  Another incident the lawsuit cites is repeated harassment in the form of Nathan Bales’ truck, marked with a hangman’s noose and white supremacist slogans, parked within sight of Eaglesmith’s workplace.

  Eaglesmith was afraid for his life, and went to the sheriff to get a permit to carry a gun, Haberfeld said.

  Eaglesmith’s case will be heard in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on May 20, 2013.

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