Former Woodland School director files age discrimination suit


A former employee of Woodland School in Portola Valley is suing the school for age discrimination.

The suit, filed June 10 in San Mateo County Superior Court by Louise Douglas, 80, claims that she was forced to retire after a school official harassed her in an effort "to drive out older, highly paid staff," according to the lawsuit. The school did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Douglas, a Foster City resident, worked as director of admissions at the private school, which serves students in preschool through eighth grade, from July 1, 2008, until the end of the 2017-18 school year.

"Her (Douglas') advanced age and high salary, unfortunately, made her an inviting target for the newly appointed Head of School (Marja Brandon), who came to Woodland in 2016 wishing to 'clean house' and install younger, less highly paid loyalists as part of her administration," the lawsuit states. "The abusive and transparent efforts of Head (of School) to drive out older highly paid staff is precisely what occurred in the school year 2016-2017."

When Brandon, who is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, started her role, she immediately began to question Douglas and other senior employees about when they would retire and made it clear they should do so soon, according to the lawsuit. Further, Brandon undermined Douglas' authority by favoring and deferring to Douglas' younger subordinate, the lawsuit states.

In May, the school named Lillian Howard interim head of school for the 2019-20 school year, effective July 1. The school's board of trustees plans to name a permanent head of school before Thanksgiving, according to the school's website. The website does not indicate why Howard will fill Brandon's shoes, and Brandon is still listed as the current head of school.

Douglas cannot get hired by another school because of her age and is suffering financially, the claim states.

“There are not a lot of schools that are hiring 80-year-old admissions people, so she’s essentially unemployable for similar work, which is what one would expect,” said Douglas' attorney, John O'Connor of O'Connor and Associates.

According to the lawsuit, another senior employee left the school mid-semester, in November 2017, because of the administration's treatment.

The lawsuit lists discrimination based on age, retaliation, harassment based on age, failure to prevent harassment, wrongful termination and infliction of emotional distress as causes for action. Douglas is seeking unspecified damages.

A case management conference is scheduled for Oct. 9 at 9 a.m.

Woodland School is located on the former Ladera School campus; the property is owned by the Las Lomitas School District, which leases the site to Woodland.

The full lawsuit can be viewed here.


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