Friday, February 27, 2015

Jury: Fallbrook Schools Must Pay Ex-Employee $1M for Retaliation

After more than a year of delays, I'm pleased that Elaine Allyn finally got her day in court--and prevailed in her claim of illegal retaliation by Fallbrook Union Elementary School District.  

I'm wondering if Allyn will appeal some or all of the 11 claims that Judge Stern decided in favor of the school district.  Judge Jacqueline Stern seemed to be a bit over-anxious to protect the schools district, as indicated by the fact that she declared a mistrial in this case in October 2013 rather than placing an alternate juror on the jury--and then delayed the new trial for more than a year.

See earlier post on this case HERE.
See the complaint filed by Plaintiff HERE.

Jury: Fallbrook Schools Must Pay Ex-Employee $1M for Retaliation
Ashly McGlone
Voice of San Diego
Feb. 26, 2015

A jury Thursday afternoon ordered the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District to pay its former IT director Elaine Allyn over $1 million for retaliating against her for objecting to the deletion of district emails.

The jury returned the unanimous verdict after deliberating for four hours following a 15-day trial, said Allyn’s attorney, Michael Curran.

It was the second jury to hear wrongful termination claims made by Allyn, who was fired in May 2012 after a dispute over the deletion of district emails.

“I can’t express the emotion I am feeling,” Allyn said of the verdict. “This is not only for me but, for all the people at the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, former and present employees that are going through the awful treatment that this administration is giving them. I really hope that it opens the eyes of the School Board to re-evaluate the current administration and their management philosophy.”

The district claimed the 18-year employee was fired for snooping and hacking colleagues’ emails and reduced the amount of time district servers retain emails on her own “to conceal her wrongful and deceitful acts.”

Allyn said she had previously reported sexual harassment by a superior and that she was ordered to dismantle the district’s email archive system, permanently erasing all deleted emails and reducing email retention from three years to one week, despite voicing objections and legal concerns.

A first trial that began in October 2013 ended in a mistrial after the district asked to extend it beyond the 10 days scheduled.

This time, the jury found Fallbrook retaliated “against Ms. Allyn for raising objections to reducing the retention time of the District’s email system,” and awarded nearly $1.05 million for lost income and $148,000 in damages, more than the amounts sought, court records show.

Read the rest of the story HERE. 

VERDICT IS IN: Jury unanimously finds Fallbrook Union Elementary School District wrongfully terminated Elaine Allyn; district ordered to pay over $1.19 million

February 27, 2015 
by admin FALLBROOK – The following are two statements provided to the Village News on Thursday, Feb. 26,  following a unanimous verdict in favor of plaintiff Elaine Allyn in the Allyn vs. Fallbrook Union Elementary School District lawsuit claiming wrongful termination.

The first statement is from Allyn’s legal counsel, Curran & Curran Law.

The second statement is from Fallbrook Union Elementary School District legal counsel, Gil Abed of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, APC, who defended the district.

“1.2 million verdict in employment retaliation case against Fallbrook Union Elementary School District”

“In a resounding victory against the alleged misconduct by her former bosses, FUESD superintendent Candace Singh, Ray Proctor and Dennis Bixler, Elaine Allyn, the former 18-year information technology director for the district, prevailed in her claims for retaliatory mistreatment and wrongful termination with a unanimous jury award of $1,194,000 for lost past, present and future income and emotional distress (general damages).

“Ms. Allyn originally alleged claims for wrongful termination in violation of public policy, retaliation under the Labor Code and for the failure to conduct a proper alleged discrimination investigation relating to Mr. Bixler investigating his own boss, Mr. Proctor. Her claims were refined by her counsel and, based upon technical legal/procedural grounds, a single claim went to the jury; whistle-blower retaliation in violation of Labor Code section 1102.5.

“Ms. Allyn testified she had questioned the spending of Ms. Singh, alleging she had spent in excess of $43,000 of public funds on a larger office and redecorating and over $14,000 in public funds on new tech items for herself, when she first became Superintendent in August 2011. She further alleged that Ms. Singh and Mr. Proctor had spread these expenditures around various district budgets to avoid the scrutiny of the board. Ms. Singh had asked Ms. Allyn to purchase a larger computer screen for her from the IT budget so as not to “flag the board.”

“Ms. Allyn had also testified in the early summer of 2011 that Mr. Proctor had warned his fellow administrators to “clean their houses” as he was aware of public investigations into misconduct in other districts concerning improper financial relationships with contractors and other financial misconduct and was concerned Fallbrook could be investigated and he could be embarrassed or disciplined for his own alleged financial misconduct.

“Mr. Proctor and Ms. Singh then directed Ms. Allyn to delete the district’s archive server which contained three years of district historical emails. When Ms. Allyn initially refused and asked her bosses to provide a legal opinion because she believed what they were asking violated law and district policy, they threatened her with insubordination charges and ordered her to delete the email archive sever telling her they would take care of the legal issue.

“Once that was done, in a further attempt to cover themselves and point the finger at Ms. Allyn in case of investigation of the District, they falsely and pretextually accused her of “hacking” and reading their emails and conducted a $43,000 pretextual investigation with the district lawyer Dan Shinoff’s trusted investigator, who found no computer or forensic evidence of misconduct by Ms. Allyn.

“Despite the findings of the investigator, Ms. Singh, Mr. Proctor and Mr. Bixler still falsely charged Ms. Allyn with reading emails, deleting emails, and failing to assist the district with the voluntary Erate funding program. In a formal Notice of Charges document, Mr. Bixler, who testified the documents was “wordsmithed” with Mr. Shinoff, presented these pretextual and false charges to the board, resulting in Ms. Allyn’s wrongful and retaliatory termination.

“Earlier in this litigation, district spokesperson, Dennis Bixler, had previously falsely indicated to the press Ms. Allyn had been terminated for dishonesty, fraud and violation of district policies. After an initial trial, which Ms. Allyn and her counsel believe the district intentionally caused to be mistried, the district board again falsely reported to the press Ms. Allyn was terminated for dishonesty, fraud and violation of district policy.

“The dedicated jury in this second trial listened attentively to all the evidence and believed Ms. Allyn and her former district employees, all of whom were absolutely honest and sincere and none of whom were impeached, not a single time in the trial. The district witnesses were impeached repeatedly with inconsistent deposition and former testimony from the first trial. The district witnesses were shown to be inconsistent with each other on key issues in the case with Mr. Bixler giving five different versions of Ms. Allyn reporting to him and Mr. Shinoff and his investigator that she had been directed by Ms. Singh and Mr. Proctor to delete the districts archive email server.

“The district witnesses even attempted to add new preposterous claims and allegations against Ms. Allyn raised for the first time in the litigation at this trial, like Ms. Allyn had years back sexually harassed her boss Mr. Proctor and Ms. Allyn violated procedures and had a bad reputation. The jurors properly disregarded these new claims as unsubstantiated mud-slinging.”

“At trial, Mr. Proctor also testified for the first time in the litigation that he did not need to delete email as he had printed everyone of his emails for the past 21 years which district counsel said were all “public record.” There was no evidence to support this new allegation and no other witness supported these claims and, in fact, the district charges against Ms. Allyn alleged the district administrator emails were highly confidential and related to confidential district business.
“The jury properly considered all the evidence and found Ms. Allyn had been retaliated against and wrongfully terminated.  Jurors indicated the district’s mistreatment angered and insulted their intelligence and awarded Ms. Allen the maximum damages they believed they could based on the evidence and jury instructions. They even awarded Ms. Allyn a greater sum of emotional distress damages that had been asked by her counsel in closing argument...

Below is the media statement provided by Gil Abed of Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, APC, who defended Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD). The statement is attributed to FUESD superintendent, Candace Singh.

” Re: Jury decision/Allyn v. FUESD”

“This lawsuit was filed with 12 claims against the district, 11 of which the district either prevailed or were dismissed. The district intends to seek all remedies available including costs and attorneys’ fees with respect to all of the 11 claims.

“The Fallbrook Union Elementary School District is disappointed with the outcome of the trial with respect to the one claim that the jury was asked to decide.

“While the jury’s decision is not the outcome expected, the district respects the jury’s time and commitment to the judicial process. At the same time, the district will continue to pursue the legal remedies that reach beyond today’s decision.”
The Village News will publish its customary news coverage of the jury decision in the March 5 issue.

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