Thomas, et al. v. Puyallup School District – $7,500,000 Settlement

About the case

PUYALLUP — The Puyallup School District will pay $7.5 million and make administrative and curriculum changes to encourage racial diversity in order to settle a two-year civil rights suit.

Kathy Afflerbaugh, the school board’s president, said the district is pleased with the settlement because otherwise it could be facing six different trials and years of costly litigation that would have divided the community.

“We are happy the lawsuit is settled,” she said, “because we know that lawsuits are about things that happened in the past, and we are just really looking forward.”

The suit, filed in 2000, accused the district of tolerating a racially hostile environment, citing assaults on minority students and racist graffiti and slurs.

Darrell Cochran, who helped represent the 36 students and 23 parents in the suit, said a tentative settlement was forged early last week. He said the district’s insurance carrier then approved the $7.5 million payout.

Donald Shorter, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said, “I commend the school district for being so far-reaching. They are addressing this problem.”

All three of Shorter’s children have either been through or are now enrolled in Puyallup schools.

In 1999, the Puyallup School District, the 12th-largest in Washington, struggled with a negative public image after a series of racially charged incidents. Those included fights and graffiti, and one student showing up for a class photo with his face painted with eye black.

As part of the settlement, the school district will review all of its policies, including those pertaining to harassment, discrimination and student behavior.



  • Settlement: $7,500,000

Cause Number

  • U.S. District Court, Western Washington, C00-5021RJB


  • Puyallup School District


Close-up view of a metal steel-gray and black wheelchair.