Former robotics coach sues for wrongful termination, ‘discrimination,’ ‘harassment’

Tara Kapoor, Senior Staff Writer

Palo Alto High School’s robotics lab is home to a team whose former members and their parents, along with the Palo Alto Unified School District, are being sued by their former coach, Kathleen Krier. Two years after a series of conflicts with the robotics team that led to her resignation in Oct. 2018, Krier has filed a set of lawsuits that claim wrongful termination of Krier’s employment by PAUSD as well as harassment and homophobic acts towards her by a group of robotics students and parents. “Defendants [Paly students and parents] intended to disrupt the performance of the agreement [of Krier’s employment contract] by having the plaintiff [Krier] removed from her position as coach of the robotics team,” court complaints state, adding, “Defendants engaged in such conduct with malice, oppression or fraud.” Photo: Eleanor Krugler.

Former Palo Alto High School robotics coach and computer science teacher Kathleen Krier has filed a civil lawsuit against the Palo Alto Unified School District, claiming wrongful termination, among other charges. She also filed a case against a group of Paly parents, alleging bullying and homophobic behavior.

On Oct. 18, 2018, Krier resigned following student and parent complaints over her treatment of Paly robotics team members. In her filing against the district in August 2020, Krier said the “campaign” against her was “harassment” and “retaliation for her efforts to increase diversity among the students on the robotics team and to stop discrimination against and harassment of others.”

A 2018 Daily Post article cited former robotics co-captain Lawrence Chang, who said Krier made “a lot of direct insults toward me [Chang] and the team in general about how we’re giving her [Krier] such a hard time.” Co-captain Bryan Yang told the Post that he felt “intimidated, scared and bullied” under Krier’s leadership.

Now, Krier shares her side of the story. According to Krier’s court complaint document, a group of robotics team parents took “actions with actual malice” against her, including “preparing a complaint for filing with PAUSD that cast plaintiff [Krier] in a false light and was defamatory and … filing that complaint.”

Krier claimed in court documents that her role at Paly began when the school requested her to join as a computer science teacher and robotics team coach — both previously male-dominated posts — for the 2018-19 school year with the goals of promoting diversity and enforcing safety measures to prevent injuries in the robotics lab.

At the start of the school year, however, Krier “was required to confront discrimination based on protected status under FEHA [Fair Employment and Housing Act],” including being “repeatedly referred to … as ‘he’ or ‘him'” by one parent, according to court documents.

The documents state Krier, who identifies as lesbian, also “found that her gay pride rainbow flag had been broken and put in the trash” in her office early in the year.

Krier stated in the court complaint that the parents who participated in booster fundraising for robotics played a role in dictating the selection process for team members, leaders and captains, and contributed to the lack of diversity on the team. Only two of the seven to nine students that she recommended to accept to the team were chosen at the team selection meeting on Sept. 21, 2018, Krier claimed in the court documents.

Former Paly Robotics co-captain Jennifer Xu explained to The Paly Voice in 2018 why Krier’s diversity picks were not all selected.

“The students have never been in support of forcing a certain diversity among our members — we have always selected based on commitment and enthusiasm,” Xu wrote to The Paly Voice. “However, we are very dedicated to trying to increase the overall diversity [of] our applicant pool, as it is one of the core values of FIRST [the robotics competition organization].”

According to the court documents, Krier is seeking at least $450,000 in compensatory damages from PAUSD, plus attorney fees and lawsuit costs. From the suit against parents (Ardeshna et al), she is asking for $300,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages.

More information on the cases can be found under the case number search at Santa Clara County Superior Court site, cases 20CV369931 (Krier v. PAUSD) and 20CV371572 (Krier v. Ardeshna et al).

Additional reporting by Tony Liao.