A former Los Angeles Unified School District employee who sued the district, alleging she was fired in 2021 in retaliation for objecting to its mandatory employee coronavirus vaccine mandate on religious grounds, lost a round in court Monday when a judge trimmed one of the claims in her case.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gail Killefer granted an LAUSD motion to dismiss plaintiff Deborah Mak’s allegation of financial elder abuse. The judge said that while the 68-year-old Mak alleges that the district has “taken, secreted, appropriated, obtained, and/or retained” Mak’s wages and other employment benefits, the plaintiff has not given enough information about how this was done or described which property rights have been affected by which takings.
The district’s motion did not challenge Mak’s other causes of action in her amended complaint filed Nov. 14, which include discrimination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and retaliation and failure to accommodate. The motion also did not impact the allegations concerning Brian Palmer, who became the second plaintiff in the case in the revised suit and also objected to being vaccinated because of his faith.
Mak was hired in October 1999 and worked as a special education assistant at Kennedy High School in Granada Hills. During more than 20 years of service, she had an unblemished record and was well-liked by students and co-workers, the suit states.
In August 2021, the district adopted a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for all employees to receive shots by mid-October while delaying the deadline for vaccinating students to this fall, the suit states.
“Despite shifting deadlines and an inconsistent application of its own policies, the district allowed unvaccinated kids to attend school and interact with the district’s vaccinated employees while at the same time claiming its goal was to keep kids and teachers as safe as possible,” the suit states.
The district had previously required all students and employees to test every week, wear masks indoors and outdoors and practice social distancing, determining that such steps were reasonable in order to allow students to attend school, the suit states.
“These were acceptable, successful, working accommodations for employees, almost two years, since the start of the pandemic,” the suit states. “To that end, they were acceptable, successful, working conditions, and remain today as such, for almost every other employer in Los Angeles County.”
Mak’s request for a religious exemption to the vaccination requirement was denied, the suit states. Although the district had accepted the sincerity of Mak’s religious beliefs and acknowledged the conflict with the district’s policy, she was fired in December 2021 on invalid grounds of insubordination, disobedience and failure to follow procedure, according to the suit.
District representatives told Mak before she received the exemption request forms that the LAUSD had no jobs for unvaccinated employees, establishing that her firing was already pre-determined, the suit alleges.
Palmer was hired in January 2006 and was classified as a district investigator, the suit states. He did not have any negative performance reviews or disciplinary issues before his firing last March 9, the suit states.