Somewhere near the intersection of arrogance and negligence lies Lodi Unified’s next lawsuit. Currently, L.U.S.D. owns the dubious distinction of being named in over 40 lawsuits in San Joaquin County alone. The question is why?
Well some would say, it’s those damn lawyers, still others might blame people who seem to want something for nothing, still others might believe that all these lawsuits are frivolous and without merit, substance or worth. And, every once in a while, they would be right.
However, the plain fact of the matter is, the over whelming majority of legal actions filed by licensed attorneys against Lodi Unified School District have merit, substance, and with few exceptions, the plaintiff’s always win. After reading some of the District’s more recent lawsuits I found one that seems to exemplify the District’s legal challenges better than most. As the lawyers would say: Herewith please find “Exhibit A” the short title: Singh v. Lodi Unified School District. And, as the lawyers are also fond of saying: “The document speaks for itself.”
Although there must be at least a dozen different ways to describe this complaint, like most of the District’s law suits, they start with angry people who feel as though they are being ignored. Most studies dealing with malpractice [in any profession] always point to how the customer, patient, student [or teacher] was treated.
Most of the people who sue do so because they feel they were left with no other choice. They were ignored, dismissed, neglected and offered no respect or deference. The plaintiffs in this particular case made phone calls that were not returned, they wrote letters that were left unanswered, they would ask for meetings in which their complaints were expressed yet completely unheard. They were patronized, dismissed and quickly forgotten. Then, they sued.
The top administrators and the School Board have a duty to parents, students and teachers. Many times they breach that duty. And you ask: “How do they breach that duty?” Coincidentally, they breach their duty to their constituents by their unwillingness to listen and take appropriate action. So, having no other alternative the ignored and dispossessed [the very angry] get an attorney and they sue. By way of example:
On Line 12, Page 5 (Singh v. Lodi Unified School District) it states:
In August of 2006, many teachers and staff at Christa McAuliffe Middle School (“CMMS”) began talking to each other about Russom Mesfun (Principal at CMMS) harassing and discriminatory acts. Many teachers and staff made multiple contacts with Barbara Johnston (Mesfun’s direct supervisor), Odie Douglas (District Associate Superintendent, William Huyett (District Superintendent), Ken Davis (School Board President), and Len Castenega (District Director of Personnel) and informed the District of the Principals unlawful harassing, retaliatory, and discriminatory acts.
In May of 2007, Duncan and other teachers met with Barbara Johnston, District Assistant Superintendent and informed the District of the principal’s continuing harassment and discrimination of teachers and staff at CMMS on the basis of age, race, gender, and disability.
If all this was not enough, Michelle Willbourn, the parent of a student at CMMS and a former Parent-Teacher Association President, reported to school officials that the Principal made “grossly inappropriate” comments “of a sexual nature” directed at her. The “top administrators” knew of these matters and did nothing.
Relating to plaintiff Tracy Singh: Commencing in July of 2006 and continuing thereafter, the defendant Principal, with the knowledge and consent of the District, began a series of actions and events designed to injure, discredit, shame, embarrass, harass, defame, discriminate against, retaliate against and harm the plaintiff Singh.
I spoke with Stephen R. Jaffe, a San Francisco based attorney, at some length about this case. In abstract summation, Mr. Jaffe feels very good about his client’s chances to prevail in this suit. In Mr. Jaffe’s complaint he cites (9) nine separate theories of recovery for damages on behalf of three teachers at Christa McAuliffe Middle School.
I ask you, what would have happened if the top administrators or school board members had taken action when first put on notice? What if someone listened then appropriately intervened? We will never know. All we know for sure is the suit has been filed and has been vigorously litigated. My guess, it will cost the District hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees not to mention a hefty payout if Mr. Jaffe’s clients prevail.
The District pays somewhere between hundreds of thousands and millions to like kind complaints. Couldn’t we put that money to better use? Wouldn’t it be great if the top administrators and the Lodi Unified School Board were responsive to their constituents?
Epilogue is Prologue
Since this article was published [more than a year ago] the principal has left the District. Dr. Barbara Johnston has left the District. A few months after aforementioned suit was filed, Mr. Jaffe and his clients were [quietly] paid a rather very large sum of money to drop the suit. Although the plaintiffs can’t say how much they were paid, it suffices to say they were “happy” with the lump sum payment and have moved on with their lives.
The Lodi School Board remain on the job; at least for a few more months. Since the time this article was first published the District has been sued over-and-over again for the same exact thing; negligence. In non-legal terms, the District’s administrators get sued for not doing their jobs. Administrators are paid to “administrate” in most cases that means supervise. Why are we paying so much for so little? This question continues to remain unanswered.