SWEETWATER COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NUMBER ONE, STATE OF WYOMING, Appellant (Respondent),
DONNA GOETZ, Appellee (Petitioner).
from the District Court of Sweetwater County The Honorable
Richard L. Lavery, Judge
Representing Appellant: Jon Aimone and Kari Moneyhun of
Lemich Law Center, Rock Springs, Wyoming. Argument by Mr.
Representing Appellee: Gregory P. Hacker of Hacker, Hacker
& Kendall, P.C., Cheyenne, Wyoming
BURKE, C.J., and HILL, DAVIS, FOX, and KAUTZ, J J.
Appellee Donna Goetz was terminated from her position as a
custodian at the Rock Springs Junior High for stealing or
attempting to steal a backpack containing an iPad which
belonged to a student. The Board of Trustees of Sweetwater
County School District No. 1 upheld the termination, finding
that Goetz was provided adequate pretermination process, and
that there was cause for termination. On a petition for
review, the district court found that Goetz was not provided
adequate pretermination process, and remanded to the Board
for reinstatement effective the date of termination. We
reverse the district court decision and reinstate the
Board's order upholding Goetz's termination.
Although the parties state the issues in varying ways, we
believe they boil down to this:
Was the Board of Trustees' decision that Goetz received
adequate pretermination due process legally correct and
supported by substantial evidence?
Appellee Donna Goetz had been employed as a custodian by
Appellant Sweetwater County School District No. 1 for about
fifteen years, and was working at the Rock Springs Junior
High at the time of the events involved in this case. Some of
the key events were captured on a security camera.
June 5 was the last day of school in 2014. For a few days
before the last day, items in the school's lost and found
area were customarily moved to a table in a main hallway in
the hope that students would pick up anything they had lost
before the school year ended. The table is in plain view of
the security camera.
The last day of school is a busy time for the custodial
staff, as they must clean everything in the building. By
around 3:30 p.m. on June 5, virtually all of the students had
left, probably because they had no interest in hanging around
as their summer vacation began. The video shows a person
identified in testimony as the school's registrar placing
two bags on the lost and found table.
Approximately twenty-eight minutes later, the video shows a
woman pushing a large rolling trash can the parties called a
"Brute, " evidently because of its brand name. This
woman was identified as Mrs. Goetz in the record. She was
accompanied by another woman identified as her supervisor,
Candice Estep. The video shows Goetz picking up a bag,
looking briefly inside, and then carrying the bag with her as
she pushes the Brute toward a door and leaves the
camera's view. The record indicates that Ms. Estep was
going to help Goetz empty the full Brute. Goetz claimed that
she picked the bag up to take it to the school office because
it seemed to have important papers in it. Goetz commented to
Estep that the bag was a great size and wondered if it would
fit her tablet.
After the two emptied the Brute, Goetz placed the bag in the
bottom of it. She contended that this is how custodians often
carry things when their Brutes are empty. There is some
dispute in the testimony and documentation as to whether she
covered the bag with an empty garbage bag or not - Goetz
denies that she did. In any event, the video shows her
passing through the area a few times, and the record reflects
that she did not take the bag to the school office although
it was nearby. Goetz claimed to have forgotten about it.
Goetz later encountered Junior High Principal Tina Johnson
and a student searching the lost and found table. The student
had returned to school and reported that his bag, with an
iPad in it, was missing. Goetz and Johnson spoke, and Johnson
told Goetz that they were searching for a black satchel.
Goetz replied that the student should leave his name so he
could be called if they found the bag. Goetz did not mention
the bag in the bottom of the Brute at that point.
Johnson then viewed the security video, and saw the portion
in which Goetz took the bag. She asked Estep what Goetz had
done with it, and Estep told her it was in the Brute. Johnson
located Goetz and asked for the bag, which Goetz gave to her,
saying that she didn't think this was the bag Johnson had
been talking about because it was gray and black, not black.
She later testified that she also did not believe the bag was
a satchel, either. Johnson testified that she looked in the
bag and immediately saw the iPad in what she described as an
obvious fluorescent-colored case.
On June 6, 2014, the school's head custodian Marie Hall
met with Goetz to discuss what had happened. Goetz told her
that she planned to take the bag to the office when she
finished other work. She also expressed concern that the
staff would think that she was stealing the backpack. When
Hall asked for a written statement, Goetz produced one that
she had already prepared. In the statement, Goetz expressed
concern about how these events might appear to others, and
indicated that she was not one to cause her peers to question
her honesty and truthfulness. She then made a second written
statement dated June 6, 2014, which is generally consistent
with the first.
[¶11] Goetz had a second meeting with Hall and Principal
Johnson on June 12, 2014. Goetz indicated that she felt like
she was being accused of stealing and denied that she was in
fact trying to steal the bag.
Goetz had a third meeting with Kelly McGovern (then Director
of Human Resources and Assistant Superintendent of Schools),
Mark Portillo (District Director of Custodial Services), and
Principal Johnson on July 17, 2014. Before the meeting began,
Goetz asked if the meeting could result in termination or
disciplinary action, and McGovern responded that she was only
gathering facts at the time, and that she would be showing
Goetz some video and asking her some questions.
Goetz then asked for representation from a fellow employee
trained in advocacy by the Wyoming Education Association,
Fredann Soto. Goetz was herself trained as an employee
advocate. Soto was summoned and arrived before the meeting
The group went through pertinent portions of the video and
discussed what was shown on it and what had happened. Ms.
Soto actively participated on Goetz's behalf according to
a nine-page single-spaced detailed summary of the
meeting. The questioning of Goetz was fairly
pointed according to that summary. After the summary was
prepared, both Soto and Goetz signed off as to its accuracy,
along with McGovern, Portillo, and Johnson. In addition, Soto
and Goetz met after the meeting, and Goetz submitted an
additional statement to clarify her earlier ones. In it she
indicated that she only took a quick glance into the bag and
did not realize it contained an iPad, and that Johnson had
not mentioned the iPad to her when they spoke at the lost and
As the meeting was coming to a close, Goetz asked McGovern
(with Soto present) if she could ask a question "off the
record." According to McGovern, she asked if the
District "would take into account all of her years with
the District as she has never done anything like this
After that, McGovern recommended to Mathew Neal, the
Superintendent of Schools for the District, that Goetz be
terminated, and he evidently agreed with the recommendation.
A fourth meeting involving Goetz, Soto, McGovern, Portillo,
and Johnson took place on August 14, 2014. McGovern presented
Goetz a letter she had authored, which terminated her
employment and explained the reasons for doing so, and she
read the letter to her. McGovern asked Goetz if she had
anything to add, and Goetz replied "No, and I'm not
going to sign this, " referring to an acknowledgement of
receipt on the letter.
Proceedings Before the ...