A teacher in the Lucia Mar Unified School District claims that the district retaliated against him for speaking out about potential student discrimination.
An Oct. 9 lawsuit filed against the district, the city of Arroyo Grande, Ranyee Daley, Charles Fiorentino, Dan Neff, and Michael Smiley alleges that teacher and wrestling coach James Gross was wrongfully demoted from his position and repeatedly mistreated after he discovered that the district was charging students money to participate in school-sponsored programs.
At the beginning of the 2008-09 academic school year, Gross made a discrimination complaint to the district regarding the school's pay-to-play policy where student athletes are charged to participate in school-sponsored programs, according to the lawsuit. Gross believed that the policy was discriminatory against low-income students who could not afford the fee.
After he made the complaint, Gross claims he and 125 other teachers received a layoff notice in March 2009. Gross testified at a layoff hearing on April 28, 2009, where he said the district didn't notify him properly about his employment classification and couldn't legally lay him off. Two days later, the lawsuit states, Gross received his first disciplinary action for the alleged misuse of the district's email system by using it to solicit funds for the wrestling program he coached.
Gross's suit also alleges that the district then tried to push Gross out of his role as the boys' wrestling head coach and that in December 2013, district Superintendent Raynee Daley placed him on administrative leave to investigate a parent complaint. On Feb. 27, 2014, Gross received a notice of unprofessional conduct and unsatisfactorily performance, according to the lawsuit.
Gross claims that all of it was done in retaliation, so he's suing the district for personal injury, damages, and civil penalties.
"I strongly believe that both students and employees should be allowed to work, learn, and live in an environment free from retaliation and free from fear of retaliation, especially for engaging in protected activities," Gross told New Times. "This is an issue of the culture of an organization, and the culture of an organization starts with its management."
District officials did not respond to a New Times request for comment before press time.