The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Costs tied to San Juan Unified superintendent’s ouster top $3 million

Glynn Thompson
Glynn Thompson jvillegas@sacbee.com

The San Juan Unified School District has paid $3.4 million in settlements and other costs tied to accusations that its former superintendent, who was forced to retire in January, mistreated female employees.

Settlements with the current and former female employees of the district total $3.2 million, according to documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee under the California Public Records Act. Insurance covers less than 45 percent of the settlements, with the rest being covered by the district.

The settlements were paid over the summer to 14 women who accused then-Superintendent Glynn Thompson of bullying and discriminating against them.

Lucinda Luttgen, president of San Juan’s Board of Education, said paying the settlements seemed a better option than facing the potential of lawsuits and attorneys’ costs.

“Yes, that is money that I would much rather not have had to pay,” she said. “I would much rather not have had the circumstances that required it to be paid.”

Spokesman Trent Allen said the district’s share will come from San Juan Unified’s reserve account, “so there will be no direct impact to any classroom operations.”

But, he added, “It represents a lost opportunity to spend those monies in other ways.”

Investigators hired by the district last year found repeated instances in which Thompson targeted women for bullying and retaliated against them for their complaints about him. He made demeaning comments about some women’s medical or disability conditions.

He also in several comments tied women’s perceived performance problems to marital troubles. And investigators said he “engaged in conduct reasonably considered to be interference” with their work.

The women served in jobs from assistant superintendents to administrative assistants. Individual payment amounts ranged from $35,000 for one woman to $500,000 to three others who alleged some of the more egregious treatment. As part of their settlements, a handful of women also are receiving nearly $390,000 in paid administrative leaves.

High-profile Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred represented all but two of the 14 women and garnered the largest settlements. She did not comment for this story.

Most of the women no longer work at the district. All agreed through the settlements to pay their own attorneys’ costs. The women reached by The Bee declined to comment, citing confidentiality language in their settlements.

The investigative law firm contracted by the district, Van Dermyden Maddux Law Corp., found that Thompson was praised as a visionary, a gifted speaker and a learned instructional leader but was “resoundingly criticized for his interpersonal skills.”

As women continued to file claims, the firm’s work grew through summer and fall 2013 to include 96 interviews of 65 witnesses.

“Former and current employees alike spoke to Mr. Thompson’s ‘bullying’ treatment and his constant threats to their jobs.” the investigators’ report said. “Cabinet members described a dysfunctional leadership team in which no one dared to speak up and where the goal was simply to ‘survive.’ ”

Investigators wrote that it was “not difficult to resolve factual disputes in favor of complainants” given the consistency and perspectives of a large number of witnesses. “There are numerous examples of employees feeling bullied, intimidated, disrespected and forced to leave the district,” the report said.

Thompson has declined to publicly address specific complaints against him although he lodged denials with investigators, the report said. And in a 2013 interview with The Bee, he said employees often did not deal well with criticism.

“If you give people feedback on their performance and it’s not what they want to hear, often it’s about them as a person,” he said.

Thompson declined through an intermediary to comment for this story.

Thompson was hired as chief academic officer in 2009 and named interim superintendent effective August 2011. He took the post permanently in April 2012. But 13 months after that, in May 2013, he was put on paid administrative leave while the law firm investigated. He never returned, retiring in January rather than face the prospect of being fired.

Kent Kern, assistant superintendent for operations and school support services, became interim superintendent last year and was appointed permanently to the post in March.

One of the women who received a $500,000 settlement, Beth Davies, assistant superintendent for elementary education, is on paid leave through June 30. Her claim described a “continuous pattern” of harassment and discrimination by Thompson.

Two other women – Stacy Spector, a former director of professional learning and innovation, and Tracy Tomasky, a former director of early childhood education – also received settlements of $500,000 each. Both resigned in 2013.

Tomasky, a former president of the San Juan Administrators Association, last September expressed the frustration, trauma and heartache women felt in seeing their work environments transformed under Thompson’s reign.

Tomasky said then she had complained to the school board about Thompson as early as February 2012, but her pleas for action were ignored. Instead, Tomasky said in her claim, she was subjected to retaliation and defamation of her character.

“I had a life plan going forward,” Tomasky said then. “I was committed to serving children and families. And having it ripped out from under me like that was, and is, devastating.”

The settlements resolve complaints made against the district’s Board of Education and Thompson, as well as Trustee Larry Masuoka.

Investigators said last year that four women took their complaints to Masuoka as early as November 2012, but he failed to “initiate a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation when he knew or should have known” that the district had a duty to respond.

The alarm was sounded after two of the women approached Trustee Greg Paulo. In May 2013, the board called for an investigation. By then, nine women had filed complaints with the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment. In the last two years, the number of complaints against the district and Thompson has grown to 17, according to spokeswoman Fahizah Alim.

In a 3-1 vote in January, the school board censured Masuoka, who had served as the panel’s president for most of 2013. Regarding the criticism from investigators, he said at a board meeting, “I did the best I could and I deeply regret that some people think my best was not good enough.”

He has chosen not to run for a third term in November and was named in filings tied to 13 of the 14 settlements.

Masuoka declined to comment, citing the confidentiality agreement. He referred questions to district spokesman Allen.

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