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Ex-worker seeks more money after alleged harassment by Cortines

June 5, 2012 |  4:41 pm

Ramon Cortines

This post has been updated.

A senior L.A. school district official who accused former Supt. Ramon C. Cortines of sexual harassment will seek additional damages because the school system publicly disclosed details about the allegations and a settlement approved by the Board of Education.

Attorneys representing Scot Graham, 55, also assert that they now want to negotiate directly with current Supt. John Deasy, who has been largely uninvolved in the matter.

The latest developments emerged in a letter dated June 4, obtained by The Times, sent by Graham’s attorneys to the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In the letter, the attorneys contend that a “public-relations campaign” by the L.A. Unified School District “was a clear invasion of Mr. Graham’s privacy and placed him in a false light.”

[Updated at 6:50 pm: In a statement, L.A. Unified said that the school board Tuesday “voted unanimously to reject a new counter settlement proposal.” A spokesman added that Deasy would remain on the sidelines and that the board “intends to handle this matter directly.”

The district also has defended its release of information, saying, in part, that "disclosure of the settlement was consistent with its obligations under the Public Records Act.]

The school system announced May 23 that the Board of Education had approved paying $200,000 and providing lifetime benefits to Graham, a senior manager for 12 years in the facilities division who earned about $150,000 a year. In exchange, Graham agreed to resign as of May 31, the district said at a media briefing managed by the public-relations firm Cerrell Associates.

The harassment allegations arose from an encounter between Graham and Cortines at the superintendent's ranch in Kern County in July 2010. In a statement distributed by L.A Unified, Cortines described what happened as an episode of consensual, "adult behavior."

Graham contended, through his attorneys, that Cortines had made inappropriate, unwanted sexual advances. Cortines, 79, retired in April, 2011.

At the time of the district’s public disclosure, Graham had not yet signed the settlement. For at least a week, the district asserted that the agreement was still binding and that Graham was on paid leave through May 31, when his employment would end. At one point last week, Graham tried unsuccessfully to enter district headquarters, his attorneys said.

The district altered its position on May 31, saying Graham must return to work if he declined to sign the settlement, said Graham attorney Arnold Peter.

[Updated at 6:50 pm: A district spokesman responded that, "As Mr. Graham did not submit his resignation by May 31, 2012, he was informed that he remained an employee and was expected to report to work to perform his regular duties."] 

But Graham no longer wants to return and believes he has been “constructively terminated,” according to the letter.

“The LAUSD knew or should have known that its actions were likely to humiliate Mr. Graham, make the prospect of returning to work at LAUSD intolerable, and greatly diminish his ability to secure new employment,” wrote attorney Maurice D. Pessah. The district's actions “give rise to additional claims against the LAUSD, and will be pursued.”

Deasy was left out of previous negotiations at the discretion of the school board, which is charged with hiring and evaluating the superintendent of schools.


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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Ramon Cortines in 2010. Credit: Los Angeles Times