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10 sue San Juan schools for superintendant's sexual harassment

Ten women who served in jobs ranging from personal assistants to district-wide managers have sued the San Juan Unified School District over unanswered complaints of serious harassment and retaliation by the superintendent. He has been on paid leave since May.

In lawsuits totaling some $17 million, ten current and former employees claim the superintendent created an extremely hostile work environment with angry, violent outbursts and harsh retaliation for complaints. One former top administrator says she was stripped of responsibilities and threatened with demotion to custodian when she complained. Others say he demoted, threatened to fire, and even defamed them in efforts to thwart their complaints.

Most of the plaintiffs held high-level positions, yet they say their complaints to at least two members of the board of trustees were ignored and obstructed. Finally, one board member took their situation to the district’s in-house legal counsel and then to the full board. The trustees initiated an investigation, which was recently completed and is now under discussion by the trustees.

That was too late for the top administrator he allegedly threatened to demote to custodian. She left the school district in April.

In addition to her high position with the district, another plaintiff was president of the San Juan Administrators Association -- until she approached a board member with complaints by Association members, she says. Nothing changed, except that the superintendent stripped her of her staff and increased her responsibilities before finally threatening to fire her. She left the district in May.

One plaintiff was the only African-American woman who held a district-wide position with the district -- director of elementary campuses. She was abruptly demoted to an ordinary principal and suspected that demotion was racially motivated. According to her lawsuit, he reassured her but then told her peers she was “done with the district.”

Another plaintiff, who had served as director of early childhood education for the district also complained to the board. The superintendent allegedly told his district cabinet members that she was “a liar ... incompetent and mentally unstable.”

Harassment doesn’t have to be sexual in nature to be illegal. It can be based on gender or other illegal factors. Beyond unlawful harassment, retaliation against employees who make complaints in good faith is itself a violation of California and federal law. Employers should be on notice that failing to take complaints seriously can be a costly mistake.

Source: The Sacramento Bee, “San Juan Unified faces $17 million in claims over harassment allegations,” Loretta Kalb, Dec. 16, 2013

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