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Settlement over alleged Cortines harassment could unravel

May 29, 2012 |  5:30 pm

This post has been updated and corrected.

The settlement with the employee who made allegations of sexual harassment against former L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines could unravel over disputed terms of the agreement and its premature disclosure by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“No final agreement has been reached,” said attorneys for the employee, Scot Graham, in a statement released Tuesday.

The case arose out of an encounter between Graham and Cortines at the former superintendent's ranch in Kern County in July 2010. Cortines last week described what happened as one episode of “adult behavior” that was consensual. Graham has contended otherwise.

Last week, the school system announced that the Board of Education had approved paying $200,000 and providing lifetime benefits to Graham, a senior manager in the facilities division. In exchange, Graham agreed to resign as of May 31, the district said.

During a briefing with invited reporters, district officials had acknowledged that they could not confirm that the agreement had been signed, but they said they anticipated no delays.

That optimism was premature, according to attorneys representing Graham, the district’s director of leasing and asset management.

“The LAUSD’s actions are reprehensible,” said attorney Arnold Peter. “After refusing to investigate the serious charges that Mr. Graham was courageous enough to bring forward against the then-superintendent…the LAUSD is now attempting to orchestrate a further whitewash by revealing inaccurate information about Mr. Graham’s charges and by misrepresenting the nature of the settlement terms.”

Graham’s attorneys have disputed a timeline of events supplied by the district suggesting that officials handled the matter sensitively from the start. They also said that Graham understood the value of the lifetime health benefits to be $300,000, whereas the district told reporters the value was $250,000. That discrepancy has given them pause, they said, as well as additional reason to question the school system’s good faith.

When Graham tried to return to work this week, he was immediately placed on paid leave and informed that he would be terminated as of May 31, the attorneys said.

District officials could not be immediately reached.

[Updated at 7:30 pm: In a statement from an outside attorney representing L.A. Unified, the school district said it was abiding by its valid agreement with Graham.

“Last Tuesday evening, the attorneys for Scot Graham accepted the terms of the settlement agreement that were approved by the Board of Education," said attorney Linda Savitt. "The district relied on Mr. Graham’s acceptance and stands by the terms reached. In the interest of transparency, the district announced the settlement last Wednesday.”]

State law would prevent the district from firing Graham, who was earning $150,000 a year, for bringing a sexual-harassment allegation.

--Howard Blume

[For the Record, 7:43 p.m. May 29: An earlier version of this post identified Graham as an at-will employee, according to his attorneys. The district said that Graham's job has civil-service protections.]