JUST IN: LAUSD slapped with $1 billion lawsuit to end teacher jails
Mike Szymanski | October 15, 2015
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Following up on a months-long threat, high-profile attorney Mark Geragos today slapped LA Unified with a class action lawsuit, calling for an end to the practice of “teacher jails” and asking for more than $1 billion in damages.
The suit was filed in state superior court on behalf of Rafe Esquith, a well-known teacher who was dismissed in April, as well as thousands of other unnamed teachers who have been placed in “jail” by the district in recent years. Calling LAUSD “a criminal cartel,” the suit charges the district with violations of due process, age discrimination, whistleblower retaliation and wrongful discharge — all in a scheme to remove older teachers whose salaries and benefits make them more expensive to retain.
Among the defendants named are Superintendent Ramon Cortines and his yet-to-be-chosen successor. Cortines intends to step down in December.
At his downtown office only a few blocks from LAUSD headquarters, Geragos accused the district of engaging in “a pattern and practice of the LA Unified school district basically divesting teachers of their benefits once they reach a certain age. The method by which they do this is they gin up false charges, they make false accusations.”
“I’m calling for the complete shutdown of LAUSD,” Geragos added. “I think LAUSD is a completely corrupt organization. They have consigliere lawyers.”
A spokeswoman said the district “has not reviewed the lawsuit and therefore has no comment at this time.”
This legal action comes a day after the Los Angeles Times disclosed that the school board, in a closed session this week, voted unanimously to start termination proceedings against Esquith over allegations that went well beyond the original charge for removing him from his classroom — quoting a passage from Mark Twain that referred to “naked” bodies. The school district said it would not comment on the accuracy of the story, describing it as a private personnel matter. Esquith’s attorneys say they have not been told of the teacher’s imminent dismissal.
“This is another pattern of the school board,” Geragos said. “They meet in secret, they have secret documents. They have a secret investigation.”
The district’s initial investigation grew to examine other incidents in Esquith’s past.
Lawyers for LA Unified have said the investigation into his background found evidence of “highly inappropriate conduct involving touching of minors” during his time as a district teacher as well as “inappropriate photographs and videos of a sexual nature” on his school computer. Geragos said no such evidence has ever been presented to him since the teacher was removed from his classroom.
“They have an investigative hit squad that goes out and basically intimidates and tries to extract statements from students that they then use for kangaroo court-style proceedings in order to get people to resign so they don’t vest in their retirement benefits,” Geragos said.
Esquith, 61, has said he would like to return to teaching and has faced health issues due to stress over his being assigned to “teacher jail” where he had to sit during the school day rather than be in his classroom. Geragos said that more than 1,000 teachers have contacted his office over the similar complaints.
“We get 20, 30, some days as many as 50 teachers who have complained about this, and it’s the same pattern over and over again,” Geragos said.
Geragos reviewed a litany of accusations against LA Unified, including rehiring “a lawyer who said it’s OK for an eighth grader to consent to sex” and hiring a law firm that covered up evidence in the Miramonte school scandal. He continuously referred to the superintendent as “crotch-grabbing Cortines,” a reference to allegations made against Cortines in a sexual harrasment lawsuit from a former district employee.
Geragos said to expect several other lawsuits soon from “people intimated, coerced and frightened by the investigative hit squad.”
He called the off-site location of where teachers are housed, “Something that looks like an old Soviet gulag where teachers have to go each day, and taxpayers should see this as some kind of an affront to put teachers somewhere that looks like a place where Costco stores sausages. You can’t warehouse people like this.”