Wade Willis, the local actor (pictured above in a publicity shot for Les Misérables
) and a former drama and music teacher at Southridge High School, is suing the Beaverton School District for wrongful discharge following the controversial canceling
of the play The Laramie Project
at Southridge High in September 2005.
In a Multnomah County Circuit Court case filed June 30, Willis alleges Southridge
principal Amy Gordon and Beaverton School District officials "maintained specific working conditions so intolerable that a reasonable person in the employee's position would have resigned because of them." Willis did in June 2006.
Leading up to that date, Gordon and Willis had clashed over the suitability of staging The Laramie Project
, a play about the murder of Matthew Shepard
in Wyoming in 1998. Shepard was gay.
Though numerous high schools have put on the play, the issue of whether Southridge would stage the show erupted in the media after Gordon initially deemed its content too controversial. At the time, Gordon had questions about the play's profanity and sexual content, though there is no actual sexual content present in the play. After intense debate, students performed the play just before the school year closed.
Willis is seeking $125,000 in damages for mental anguish, humiliation, lost earnings and lost benefits. His lawyer, Michael Vergamini, says Willis also hopes to encourage the Beaverton School District to reconsider and improve its policies for defining and dealing with "controversial materials."
Beaverton spokeswoman Maureen Wheeler says the school district has not received notice of the lawsuit yet. "At this point we have nothing to review or comment on," Wheeler says.