Suit accuses former LAUSD Supt. Cortines of sexual harassment
A former mid-level school facilities administrator has sued retired Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines for sexual harassment.
The suit was filed this week, in L.A. County Superior Court, after settlement negotiations collapsed between former leasing manager Scot Graham and the L.A. Unified School District. The school system is paying for Cortines’ defense, a spokesman confirmed Wednesday.
Cortines, 80, has denied any harassment, saying that there was one, brief incident of consensual “adult behavior” when Graham visited his Kern County ranch in July 2010.
The complaint, filed Monday, provides the first detailed narrative of Graham’s allegations. In it, Graham also asserts that Cortines made unwanted advances during his first stint as superintendent in 2000 and that senior staff failed to act when Graham revealed the alleged harassment.
Graham, 56, began working for L.A. Unified in 2000, while Cortines served for six months as interim superintendent. Cortines has acknowledged recruiting and recommending Graham, a longtime acquaintance, for the real estate division.
Shortly thereafter, Graham alleges that on one occasion Cortines pressured him unsuccessfully to have sex after hours at district headquarters.
Graham was still working for L.A. Unified when Cortines returned as superintendent in December 2008. The suit characterizes Cortines' demeanor toward Graham as overly attentive and friendly.
Graham asserts that he accepted the invitation to Cortines' ranch in 2010 because he was “acutely aware that Cortines could eliminate his position at any time or protect him from being laid off. As the primary breadwinner in his marriage, Graham could not afford to risk losing his job, so, hoping that Cortines’ invitation was strictly professional, Graham reluctantly accepted.”
Graham alleges that, over the course of two days, Cortines repeatedly tried to engage him in unwanted sexual behavior, and that he felt trapped.
Later, Graham alleges that two supervisors failed to report the issue for several weeks after Graham confided in them. Subsequently, L.A. Unified General Counsel David Holmquist allegedly urged him to drop the matter, saying, “What is the point of running a man’s career… What are you going to accomplish by complaining?” according to the suit.
The district has a different version of events, saying that Graham insisted to his supervisors that the alleged incident should not be acted on, and that officials respected his wishes, while also directing him to report any future possible misconduct. The district said Graham and his husband continued to see Cortines socially after Cortines retired in April 2011.
In March, Graham’s attorneys notified L.A. Unified that they intended to file a harassment claim. In May, the Board of Education approved a settlement of $200,000 plus lifetime health benefits, valued at $250,000 to $300,000, with Graham, who also agreed to leave his $150,000-a-year job as director of leasing and asset management.
The agreement broke down in part because district officials made it public before it was final.
L.A. Unified was not named in the suit, but Graham has submitted a claim for damages to the district, an action that typically precedes a lawsuit. Through a spokeswoman, Cortines said he had no comment beyond his initial statement in May.
-- Howard Blume
Photo: Retired Los Angeles schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines. Credit: Los Angeles Times