Former Woodburn superintendent files lawsuit against district

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Sept. 22, 2021 1:43 p.m.
Woodburn High School in Woodburn, Oregon, Saturday, July 22, 2017.

Woodburn High School in Woodburn, Oregon, Saturday, July 22, 2017.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Former Woodburn School District superintendent Oscar Moreno Gilson is suing his former employer.


In the 12-page complaint dated September 20 and filed in Marion County circuit court, Moreno Gilson claims he was terminated for supporting the Oregon Department of Education-backed Every Student Belongs policy and the State Board of Education’s resolution that Black Lives Matter. Moreno Gilson also claims he received backlash for wanting administrators to be evaluated.

The lawsuit claims due process violation, violation of public meetings law, whistleblower retaliation, retaliation for opposing unlawful practice, and wrongful discharge. According to the filing, Moreno Gilson is seeking an “amount to be determined at trial” based on lost wages, benefits, attorney fees and compensatory damages.

Hired in 2020, Moreno Gilson served in Woodburn’s top administrative role for less than a year. His contract was originally set to end in 2023.

Back in January, the school board said its decision to place Moreno Gilson on administrative leave stemmed from a personnel complaint.

In the September 20 filing, Moreno Gilson alleges that the complaint was filed by the district’s director of instructional services. The lawsuit said the employee accused Moreno Gilson of “racism and the creation of a hostile work environment” after disagreeing with Moreno Gilson on issues related to discrimination and work performance evaluations, according to the filing.

The district had an outside investigator look into the claims. In the complaint, Moreno Gilson also said he was asked during the district’s investigation whether he’d used the terms “white privilege” or “Black Lives Matter,” and that an interview focused heavily on equity efforts in the district. Moreno Gilson claims his request for a copy of the investigator’s report was denied.


In a statement to OPB, Woodburn school board chair Anthony Medina said the lawsuit “emphatically and unequivocally” does not reflect the true nature of what happened with Moreno Gilson.

“Let me be clear, Mr. Moreno Gilson, through his actions, created a culture of fear, a hostile work environment, and engaged in retaliatory conduct in addition to violating sexual harassment, hostile work environment, and retaliation and discrimination policies,” said Medina in the statement.

Medina said “subsequent complaints” have confirmed the board’s decision to fire Moreno Gilson. He said the lawsuit does not reflect the “true nature of the investigation, findings, and reasons for termination.”

“The Woodburn School District upholds its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and is aghast DEI is being used as a scapegoat to shield from taking personal responsibility,” Medina said.

“The Woodburn School District stands with the multiple staff who came forward.”

After placing Moreno Gilson on leave, the board promoted Juan Larios, former Director of the Department of School Performance, into the interim superintendent role. He’s expected to continue in the role through the end of the school year, according to the Woodburn Independent.

Coalition of Oregon School Administrators executive director Craig Hawkins told OPB’s Think Out Loud that 2021 has been a record year for new superintendents.

In Woodburn, Medina said the district’s focus remains on the new school year, which started August 30.

“WSD’s focus is on ensuring our students, staff, and community are ready to learn in a safe and welcoming environment,” he said.

This story may be updated.