M-A wrestler voluntarily dismisses lawsuit against coach, school district | February 27, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

Almanac

Schools - February 27, 2019

M-A wrestler voluntarily dismisses lawsuit against coach, school district

Wrestler's father was 'violent, erratic' in front of student wrestlers, district's court documents claim

by Angela Swartz

A Menlo-Atherton High School student voluntarily dismissed a lawsuit against the Sequoia Union High School District, district administrators, the M-A athletic director and a wrestling coach for alleged retaliation against her and her father after they complained about "disturbing behavior" by a wrestling coach at the school.

M-A senior Kiernan Dunn dismissed her Nov. 9, 2018, lawsuit on Jan. 22, according to court documents. The lawsuit, originally filed in the San Mateo County Superior Court, alleged that the district retaliated against her for filing a Title IX complaint on Aug. 22, 2018. Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in educational activities that receive federal funding.

Kiernan's lawyer, Christopher Campbell, confirmed that she had dropped legal action against the district and district officials, but declined to comment further.

Parents of other wrestlers assert that the claims of retaliation were replete with "false accusations" and that the student's father exhibited "violent, erratic" behavior in front of student wrestlers, according to court documents.

A school district statement emailed to The Almanac on Feb. 5 states: "There was no determination of any liability, wrongdoing, or misconduct on the district's part. The decision to dismiss the lawsuit comes after the court denied the student's recent motion for a temporary restraining order seeking injunctive relief against the district. With the voluntary dismissal, the lawsuit is over and the court has closed its file on this matter."

The high school district had asked the court to move the case to the U.S. District Court's Northern District of California branch because Title IX is under federal law. There, Judge William Alsup denied Kiernan's temporary restraining order request on Jan. 16.

Kiernan filed a temporary restraining order request to be allowed to wrestle for the Fremont High School wrestling team in Sunnyvale, or for the court to allow her father Kevin Dunn, a former volunteer wrestling coach at M-A, to assume the role as her coach at M-A and coach of the M-A boys wrestling team. Kiernan requested that wrestling coach Phil Hoang be barred from the gym while she competed. A coach at Fremont High supported Kiernan's request to wrestle at his school, while continuing her academic pursuits at M-A, according to court documents.

The district filed documents with the Northern District of California court opposing Kiernan's request for a temporary restraining order, stating: "Plaintiff [is asking the Court to order Defendants to affirmatively fire its coach — or at least prevent him from coaching at meets — and hire her father as a wrestling coach. This is the essence of a mandatory injunction, and Plaintiff presents no justification for such extraordinary relief."

Other parents didn't want Kevin Dunn near the wrestling team, according to court documents.

"Having just learned of his daughter's bizarre demand for Mr. Dunn to be allowed to coach her in wrestling at M-A, I am truly afraid for my safety as an assistant coach and for Phil Hoang as the head coach if Mr. Dunn were to be allowed anywhere near the Girls Team," wrote Maria Smith, an M-A girls wrestling team assistant coach and a parent of a student wrestler, in an opposition statement to Kiernan's temporary restraining order request. "More importantly, I'm afraid for the safety of my daughter and the other girls on the Girls Team because of Mr. Dunn's demonstrated volatile and inappropriate behavior."

Kiernan's lawsuit alleged that Kevin Dunn was the victim of retaliation after he complained about "disturbing behavior" and coaching practices of another coach, Cliff Olson. Olson, according to the lawsuit, made wrestlers blindfold themselves before practicing the "most dangerous moves in wrestling," leading a student to fracture his neck. Kevin Dunn complained to M-A wrestling coaches Hoang and Williams, but the two coaches ignored his complaints, according to the suit. Olson also made racist and sexist comments, which made Kiernan and other girls on the team uncomfortable and led wrestlers to quit the team, according to the lawsuit.

After Kevin Dunn complained to coaches about Olson's behavior, Olson threatened him with physical violence at a wrestling practice, the lawsuit asserted.

The school investigated Olson's conduct and fired him, according to the lawsuit. The district officials did not respond to questions about whether Olson was or is employed by the district. A Feb. 6 email from M-A Athletic Director Steven Kryger to Hoang states that the M-A administration removed Olson from the wrestling program.

According to the lawsuit, Hoang, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, "immediately retaliated" against Kevin Dunn after the complaints were made, barring him as a volunteer wrestling coach. M-A wrestling parents state that Kevin Dunn was the one harassing Hoang, according to the district's opposition statement. In an October 2018 letter, the school district asked Kevin Dunn to stay away from the wrestling team practices and Hoang because "many issues related to his conduct" led to employee safety concerns, according to court documents. Kevin Dunn also undermined and was rude to coaches, according to district's opposition statement.

"As you are aware, the District informed you last season that you could not volunteer coach for the M-A wrestling teams," Jacqueline McEvoy, the district's assistant superintendent of human resources and student services, wrote in a letter to Kevin Dunn. "This decision not to have you coach remains for this upcoming wrestling season."

Kevin Dunn threatened physical violence against Hoang at a CCS (Central Coast Section) tournament in February 2018, according to the district's opposition statement.

The Dunns characterized the CCS incident differently in their lawsuit. Hoang approached Kevin Dunn at the CSS tournament and yelled "get up," and pushed him, the lawsuit asserted. Video evidence doesn't show Hoang pushing him during the incident; instead, Kevin Dunn is heard saying he will "f--k up" Hoang, according to the district's opposition statement. Kevin Dunn said in his own statement in court documents that he did say this to Hoang.

Smith said she witnessed Kevin Dunn's "violent, erratic behavior" in front of student wrestlers. Smith was also present when Kevin Dunn made physical threats of violence against Hoang, she said in her statement.

The district noted in court documents that Kiernan could wrestle for M-A if she wanted to, but "opted not to participate because she and her father do not like the current coach."

Kevin Dunn "entirely mischaracterized" the event and Kiernan's complaint was "replete with false accusations," according an opposition statement written by John McDonnell to Kiernan's temporary restraining order request. McDonnell is a parent of an M-A girls team wrestler and is serving as legal counsel to other parents on the team, according to court documents.

"Under Phil Hoang, the Girls Team has become the epitome of what a high school sports team should be: positive, welcoming, structured, organized, honorable, diligent, good natured, respectful of each other and their opponent, and successful — traits which derive directly from Phil Hoang himself," McDonnell wrote. "Almost all girls on the team had never wrestled before joining, and now, because of Phil Hoang, they are part of one of the most successful programs ever to compete at Menlo-Atherton High School."

The M-A girls wrestling team won its third consecutive Central Coast Section girls wrestling championship on Feb. 16. Four wrestlers won individual CCS championships. The team finished second in state finals last week.

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