Teacher Settles Lawsuit with VCUSD for $225,000
By Sarah Rohrs and
Vallejo (CA) Times-Herald
Feb. 13, 2006
|A Vallejo (CA) High School teacher who
sued State Administrator Richard Damelio and other district officials for alleged harassment, discrimination
and retaliation has agreed to an out-of-court settlement. |
In a court document signed Dec. 2, the Vallejo City
Unified School District agreed to pay veteran teacher Vernetta Northcutt $225,000 stemming from emotional distress damages
associated with the civil lawsuit.
The settlement was obtained through a written request to the school district.
The district also agreed to pay her regular salary through June 30, and pay on her behalf 10 years and six months
of service to the California State Teachers' Retirement System. A 20-year teacher earns a base salary of $66,757, and a 23-year
teacher, $68,528. The district pays 8.825 percent of her salary annually for retirement.
Further, the district
agreed to pay Northcutt's health and welfare benefits for 10 years. Under the new health benefit cap that went into effect
for employee groups this year, the district pays 80 percent of costs, which comes to $4,400 for a teacher with single coverage.
For her part, Northcutt agreed to be placed on paid administrative leave Dec. 17, and resign from her job. Under
the settlement terms, she cannot seek employment in the school district. A confidentiality agreement prevents Northcutt and
district officials from talking about the settlement. The confidentiality portion of the agreement allows the district to
seek fines of $15,000 against Northcutt should she breach the clause. The agreement also restricts district officials from
what they can say about why Northcutt left her position.
The settlement brings to an end a 3 1/2-year legal battle
which has cost the school district $104,956 in legal fees, according to district records. Those legal fees are in addition
to the December $225,000 settlement, plus $119,197 Northcutt received as a result of a 2004 arbitration award.
her October civil lawsuit, Northcutt alleged district officials failed to honor a previous arbitration award and punished
her for complaining.
She was seeking compensation for emotional distress and back wages denied when her sick leave
was cut off, as well as punitive damages, civil penalties, and injunctions against harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
In February 2004, an arbitrator found that Vallejo High School Principal Phil Saroyan racially discriminated
against Northcutt when he transferred her to another classroom. She received $70,000 for emotional distress, $41,322 in attorneys'
fees and $7,875 in back pay. She was also reinstated to her previous teaching assignment.
The district appealed
the award to the Solano County Superior Court where judges sided with Northcutt. An appeal of that ruling was pending in the
state Court of Appeal when the settlement was signed.
Besides Damelio and Saroyan, the recent suit also named
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Rose Peppin, and Director of Compliance and Community
Services Karen Hansen. In 2004, when the arbitrator originally ruled in Northcutt's favor, Assistant Superintendent
Kevin Hanks told the Times-Herald that the arbitrator "overstepped her bounds," and that claims
of racial discrimination by Saroyan were "unfounded."
|In June 2002, Saroyan reassigned
Northcutt, a 20-year district veteran with tenure, from 12th grade government and English to 10th grade world history, a grade
and subject she had never taught before. The move violated the district's collective bargaining agreement. Northcutt alleged
it was racially motivated. |
In a 2004 interview with the Times-Herald, Northcutt said Saroyan gave her
reasons for the original reassignment, including a high student failure rate. However, the arbitrator found her class had
the second lowest failure rate in her department.
In the 2004 interview, Hanks acknowledged "there were concerns
regarding complaints and the number of transfers in and out of her classroom." He added that Northcutt wasn't the only
Vallejo High teacher reassigned that year.
Rather than uphold the arbitrator's award, Northcutt alleged that the
district tried to demote her to a substitute teacher, and singled her out for her pursuit of discrimination claims.
Times-Herald reporter Matthias Gafni contributed to this report.
(Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute)http://bullyinginstitute.org: Do the math to
see how much the bullying principal, two assistant district superintendents (including the HR person) and compliance director
cost the district.
$119,957 -- 2004 arbitration won by Northcutt
$225,000 -- 2005 settlement won by
$60,475 (est.) 10 years district contribution to her retirement
$35,200 (est.) 10 years health and welfare
benefits for Northcutt
$104,956 -- district legal expenses, all designed to enable bullying without consequences
$545,588 the total expense
for ONE bully principal and 3 supportive district personnel !!!
How much harm and expense does a bully have to
inflict before the wise employer decides to end the bullying? It's not only the right thing to do, it's the fiscally responsible
thing to do. There are likely other cases just like this in the District. The Vallejo School Board should demand accountability
for these losses or lose their elected seats themselves.
While some state laws require schools to curb bullying
among students, all states currently allow unscrupulous bullying administrators to attack teachers with impunity. Stopping
student bullying stands no chance until the work environment in which student learning ostensibly takes place is purged of
*Please note: While the above story is based on bullying due to racial discrimination, not all work abuse
situations are. It is a common misconception that bullying, discrimination, and harassment are already actionable (worthy
of civil litigation) under present law. Only racial or sexual discrimination are against the law. Status-blind bullying
is legal when targets are not bullied due to their membership in a protected class under Title VII of the 1964 Civil
Rights Amendment (race, color, sex, religion, or national origin). In addition, present whistleblower laws
are marginally effective. In order for an individual to obtain legal representation as a bullied whistleblower, he or
she often must be whistleblowing about millions of dollars in false claims against the state or federal government.
Otherwise, attorneys are not willing or able to pursue these very difficult cases, as the stakes are simply not worth
the risk of their own financial investment in the pursuit.