Food safety concerns at David Douglas High School lead to whistleblower lawsuit

An ailing head cook has led to a whistleblower lawsuit against David Douglas School District, according to documents filed Wednesday, Aug. 12, in Multnomah County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit brings up concerns of food safety at David Douglas High School, where approximately 3,000 kids attend school.

Two food service workers and a special education assistant filed the suit against the small east Portland school district alleging that officials did nothing when they brought up concerns about Head Cook Kim Fragall’s increasingly erratic behavior, which they linked to her worsening health. The workers — second cook Deborah Rowley, cook’s helper Julie Passantino-Symonds and Special Education Instructional Assistant Trisha Williams — further allege that Fragall retaliated against them for bringing up their concerns with management. When they told administrators of the retaliation, including Superintendent Don Grotting, “there was no further response from DDSD,” reads the complaint.

The plaintiffs, represented by Portland attorney Mark Morrell, are asking the court for $250,000 each in non-economic damages, plus attorney’s fees.

The plaintiffs say the retaliation started after an April 2012 meeting of kitchen staff in which they told district nutritionist Jody Taylor and an unidentified union representative about their concerns of Fragall’s worsening condition and its effects on food safety. They say the head cook frequently complained of pain, would take long breaks, and would not work full days “obviously exhausted and in pain,” the suit reads. The complaint alleges Fragall’s mental state was such that she would forget how long food had been cooking and at what temperature; forget to order ingredients or order too much; fail to notice health and sanitation violations in food preparation and storage; and make uncharacteristically demeaning comments to staff.

The issues appear to have come to a head for the plaintiffs during the spring when “rumors were” that they would be permanently reassigned to North kitchen from their post at South kitchen.

Finally, the lawsuit claims that staff “have noticed a marked reduction in the number of students eating at the cafeteria. Many students have simply refused to eat the food served at South.”

A David Douglas spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment on the allegations.

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