A judge dismissed most of the claims in a lawsuit filed against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and a Whittier Catholic school by a former third-grade teacher who alleged she was fired in retaliation for complaining that the female school principal harassed her.
In a ruling issued Monday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Samantha Jessner also denied Debby Castro’s request for punitive damages against the archdiocese, but left the door open for her attorneys to seek them through an amended complaint.
The judge also allowed Castro to seek punitive damages against St. Gregory the Great School principal Paulette Clagon.
Jessner denied defense motions to dismiss Castro’s claims for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Castro maintains her reputation was maligned when Clagon allegedly told others that the plaintiff had an affair with the Rev. Ikechukwu Ikeocha, who was then the pastor of St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Adrian Marquez said her employer was gratified with the ruling, in which nine causes of action — including wrongful termination, sexual harassment, gender discrimination and retaliation — were thrown out against St. Gregory the Great School. Jessner found that the school is a religious association not subject to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act.
Clagon maintains in a sworn declaration that she did not renew Castro’s contract in April 2014 because of the plaintiff’s poor job performance. Clagon also says she had to admonish Castro not to wear tight-fitting clothing and for showing partiality to a particular pupil running for student council.
Castro also took too many rest breaks in the middle of class time and became “increasingly insubortinate” to Clagon, the principal says.
Castro sued the archdiocese, St. Gregory the Great School and Clagon in September 2014. According to the plaintiff’s attorneys’ court papers, Castro began teaching at the school in 2002. She instructed on general subjects, but religious teachings were left up to a faith coordinator, Castro’s attorneys’ court papers state.
However, Clagon maintains in her declaration that Castro actually was required to teach a religion course, to pray with her students and to attend Mass with them every Friday. She also says Castro became a teacher at the school in 2004.
Castro regularly received good performance reviews and was rewarded with additional responsibilities, including serving as student council moderator and being named to two school committees, Castro’s attorneys’ court papers state. She also received regular pay raises, her lawyers’ court papers state.
The work environment changed for Castro when Clagon became principal and the plaintiff was subjected to inappropriate comments and harassment from 2012 until she was fired in 2014, the plaintiff’s attorneys’ court papers state. Clagon told Castro that women were “too emotional” and an “embarrassment” and that “this is why I need more men on my staff,” according to Castro’s attorneys’ court papers.
Castro’s lawyers also allege in their court documents that Clagon touched the plaintiff’s stomach, saying “Hey, fatty,” and that the principal grabbed at their client’s shirt and pulled it down at least three times.
Ikeocha was named church pastor the same year Clagon arrived, according to Castro’s attorneys’ court papers. After Castro complained to Ikechoa about Clagon’s alleged misconduct, the principal targeted the plaintiff for poor performance issues for the first time in Castro’s career, according to Castro’s attorneys’ court papers.
Clagon also falsely told others that Castro and the pastor “were having a romantic affair,” resulting in Ikeocha being transferred a month after being confronted by the claims, Castro’s attorneys allege in their court papers.
— Wire reports