A 57-year-old former special education support staff member has filed suit against Los Angeles Unified, alleging she was wrongfully laid off in 2019, partly due to her taking time off to care for her handicapped son.
Denise Esther Resendez worked for the district for more than seven years as a special education paraprofessional after being hired in March 2012 and performed her job well, according to her Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Wednesday. She worked at Ivy Academia Charter School in West Hills, a co-defendant in the case along with Ivy’s elementary school principal, Jennifer Lyons-Urbach. The school also has students in grades 7-12.
“Resendez was such a model employee that in 2017, she received an award in honor of her service to the students of Ivy,” the suit states. “Moreover, Resendez’s performance reviews reflect that she received the highest score in nearly every category.”
Resendez also alleges her age and Latino ethnicity played roles in her termination. Her suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
An LAUSD representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
In August 2017, Resendez’s son had a hiking accident in which he lost his footing and fell from a 27-foot cliff, the suit states. He survived, but had to have multiple surgeries and Resendez needed one to two days of leave a month in 2017-18 to care for him and take him to medical appointments, the suit states.
Resendez provided Lyons-Urbach with a note from her son’s doctor that said her child was wheelchair-bound and needed help bathing and using the restroom, the suit states. Resendez administered daily blood thinner injections to her son, according to the suit.
Throughout the school year, Lyons-Urbach showed an “unprofessional demeanor” when Resendez updated her about her son, once mockingly asking, “Oh, what is it this time? I thought he didn’t need any more surgeries,” the suit states.
Lyons-Urbach’s comments escalated in February 2018 when, in retaliation for taking time off to care for her son, the principal said, “I thought your son jumped off a mountain,” implying he tried to take his own life, the suit states.
“Resendez felt deeply distraught that her immediate supervisor considered her severely injured son’s health a joke,” according to the suit.
In March 2019, Resendez suffered a knee injury after tripping over a golf cart charging cord at Ivy School, the suit states. No one at the school offered to help her and she had to drive herself to an urgent care facility, where she was diagnosed with a sprained knee and allowed to return to work with restrictions, the suit states.
“That same month, in retaliation for taking time off to care for her son and because she had a disability, Lyons-Urbach told Resendez, “You need to get off the cane because it makes you look older than you are,” according to the suit.
Four times from March to May 2019, in front of students, Lyons-Urbach yelled to Resendez in Spanish, “Go, go, run,” the suit states.
“Resendez found this highly offensive and inappropriate as Lyons-Urbach only made these comments to Resendez and the two other Ivy educators of Hispanic descent,” the suit states.
Resendez was laid off last June 6 after being told about two weeks earlier that there was not “enough room” on the staff for her for the 2019-20 school year, the suit states.