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L.A. Unified employee who filed harassment claim returns to job

July 26, 2012 |  2:09 pm

Former L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines in 2010.

An employee who sued former L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines this week claiming sexual harassment has returned to work, district officials confirmed.

Scot Graham, 56, quietly resumed his position as director of leasing and asset management on July 16. He’d been off the job since May 23. That was the day after the Board of Education approved paying $200,000 and providing lifetime health benefits for Graham to settle a then-informal claim against Cortines and the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Presuming the deal would go forward, L.A. Unified placed Graham on paid administrative leave from May 23 to the end of that month, when it expected his resignation to take effect. But Graham refused to sign the settlement after district officials disclosed it the day after the board vote.

What happened next is in some dispute. Graham’s attorneys claimed that at one point their client tried to return to work but was denied entry to district headquarters. District officials insisted that they had a deal for Graham to resign, but when he didn’t they soon stated that Graham should return to work. Then, in early June, Graham’s attorneys insisted that their client had been “constructively terminated” and that it would be difficult for Graham to resume his duties.

Citing privacy restrictions, the district declined to describe Graham’s hiatus. It was up to Graham to decide how to classify his absence from June 1 to mid-July. Like any other employee, his options would include using vacation time or sick leave, district spokesman Sean Rossall of Cerrell Associates said.

Neither Graham nor his attorney had immediate comment.

Through an L.A. Unified spokesman, Cortines has denied that any sexual harassment occurred.

The district, for its part, took issue Thursday with one of the claims made in the lawsuit. Among other allegations, Graham's suit asserts that Cortines recruited Graham to work at L.A. Unified and improperly circumvented normal hiring procedures. The suit alleges that Cortines was hoping to create a sense of obligation that he could use to pressure Graham into having sex.

Rossall pointed to an earlier statement from Cortines, provided by the district, in which the former superintendent stated that Graham expressed interest in working at L.A. Unified.

“I indicated to him that the facilities division may have openings,” Cortines said in the statement, adding, “I first met Mr. Graham prior to his tenure at the Los Angeles Unified School District. I respected his work and had considered him a colleague and a friend for many years.”

A separate district chronology added that, “Graham was known to Ray Cortines … prior to his hiring at the district. The two maintained a decades-long personal and professional friendship that began when they both lived in San Francisco.”

Graham joined L.A. Unified in 2000 while Cortines was serving for six months as interim superintendent. One of Cortines’ challenges at the time was to remake and improve the facilities division, which was understaffed and had a poor reputation. Graham was still with L.A. Unified when Cortines returned as superintendent in December 2008. He retired in April 2011.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Former L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines in 2010. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press

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