The Sacramento City Unified School District paid $175,000 to settle a racial and sexual harassment lawsuit after a former Hiram Johnson High School principal allegedly threatened to “whip” a female after-school employee and later told her she would “have enough time to pull your panties down” if she tried to report him.
Felisberto Cedros was placed on paid administrative leave as Hiram Johnson principal for two months in 2015 before returning last fall to a newly created post of principal on special assignment, working on special projects. In that capacity he earned $139,303, the same salary he received as principal.
He continues to receive a six-figure paycheck from the school district, though he was demoted July 1 to another newly created position of assistant principal on special assignment, in which he is now paid $109,886. In that job, he is working in a department that helps schools prepare for an upcoming federal audit.
District spokesman Gabe Ross said he could not give specifics regarding personnel matters. “I can say that as a general rule we weigh all factors including any allegations made against an employee, that person’s employment record and their right to due process.”
The district and the state Department of Education complaint unit found that Cedros in 2014 threatened to “whip” Delecia Sydnor if she failed to follow his instructions. As an African American, Sydnor alleged that it constituted racial harassment.
Sydnor also alleged that he raised the specter of a retaliatory sexual assault, warning her in September 2014 that he knew powerful people and that she would be making a mistake if she tried to report him.
“There are some people who will f--- you from behind,” Cedros allegedly said. “I am the type to f--- you from the front, and you will know it, and you will have enough time to pull your panties down.”
The district determined that eight allegations were true, including the “whip” and “panties” language, according to the state Department of Education. The district also determined that Cedros gave false and misleading statements to investigators and referred to staff members as “the light-skinned chick” and “pretty boy.”
The state Department of Education said the district’s findings were “supported by substantial evidence.”
The suit filed in Sacramento Superior Court in August 2015 alleged also that Cedros denied her a lunch break, screamed at her and threatened to terminate her after-school program. Sydnor at the time was employed by the Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center and managed the district’s Youth Engagement Services program at Hiram Johnson. The suit named as defendants the district, Cedros and the community center.
Cedros did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In the May settlement for $175,000, neither the district nor Cedros admitted responsibility.
The amount was paid by a joint powers agency, Schools Insurance Authority, which pools insurance money for Sacramento City Unified and 35 other districts, mainly in Northern California.
San Francisco employment attorney Mary Patricia Hough said her client, Sydnor, is eager to put the episode behind her. She works happily at another school in Sacramento and does not want to be interviewed, Hough said.
“Mr. Cedros thought of himself as a tough guy, a guy who could handle tough students with tough behavior,” Hough said. “However, the conduct he engaged in was highly disrespectful, deeply offensive, intolerable and objectionable. He was hardly a role model by behaving this way.
“His bullying and intimidating behavior went unabated and culminated in this case.”
Cedros was named Hiram Johnson’s principal in 2010 with the backing of former Superintendent Jonathan Raymond. He was allowed to install his own teachers and send existing ones to other campuses in an effort to improve academic performance. His first year saw tension with faculty and students who didn’t approve of his changes, which included rearranging the school schedule and instituting a teacher dress code.
He has been with the district since 1987 and was previously principal at Kennedy High School.
Mr. Cedros thought of himself as a tough guy, a guy who could handle tough students with tough behavior.
Plaintiff’s employment attorney Mary Patricia Hough
Sydnor in fall 2014 complained to the district and twice to supervisors at the Chinese Community Service Center. One supervisor told her she needed to develop a plan to leave the agency and no one was willing to support her complaints about Cedros, according to the lawsuit. The second supervisor told her she “needed to play the game as a woman to get what she wanted,” the documents said.
Sacramento employment attorney Mark Stuart Tratten said his client, the Chinese community center, denied those allegations in court filings. Sydnor and the nonprofit reached a separate settlement that Tratten said is confidential.
“Essentially, the case was settled to everyone’s satisfaction and the case was dismissed,” he said. “We wish Miss Sydnor the best in her future endeavors.”
For Sydnor, the path to resolution was long.
In October 2014, she took a medical stress leave. The next month, she filed a formal complaint with the district, alleging Cedros had sexually harassed, bullied, threatened, intimidated and humiliated her for more than a year. The district hired investigators who began their work in January 2015.
In March 2015, Sydnor resigned from the community service center, frustrated that nothing so far had come of the investigation, Hough said. A month later, the district found that Cedros did not violate California law. Sydnor appealed to the state Department of Education, which disagreed and said the district’s investigative conclusions were wrong.
“The evidence shows that the principal sexually and racially harassed and retaliated against the complainant,” the state declared. “The district’s conclusion that the principal did not violate any law is not consistent with law.”
That state decision in July 2015 cleared the way for Sydnor’s lawsuit.
“She went through the process,” Hough said. “She went to the right people to raise the issue. She filed with the district and they didn’t give her satisfaction. Finally, she had to go through the (state) appeal before she could get validation that what happened was wrong.”
District spokesman Ross said the settlement amount “probably was less than the cost of a legal defense of the case.”