A former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher won a round in court Wednesday when a judge ruled he can move forward with his lawsuit alleging he was removed from his classroom for criticizing many of the school district’s policies and initiatives.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney said he could not grant the district’s motion to dismiss Rafe Esquith entire complaint because some of his claims did not fall under what is considered protected speech and the right of the LAUSD to conduct an investigation of the teacher.
“This was a great ruling for Rafe Esquith,” the teacher’s lawyer, Ben Meiselas, said after the hearing. “We’re pleased and we look forward to the trial.”
LAUSD Chief communications Officer Shannon Haber said, “We respectfully disagree with the court’s decision and we intend to appeal the judge’s denial of our motion.”
Mooney’s ruling means that Esquith’s claims of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, the taking of items from his classroom, retaliation, age discrimination and unfair business practices remain in the case. He also is seeking reinstatement to his teaching position.
Esquith, 62, was removed from his Hobart Elementary School classroom in April 2015. The district began investigating him when another teacher came forward to allege that Esquith was using inappropriate sexual language with his students.
Esquith is known for introducing Shakespeare to his pupils.
“I have received international recognition as an innovative and groundbreaking educator,” Esquith says in a sworn declaration. “Additionally, I am a New York Times bestselling author of books addressing my teaching and educational philosophy.”
Esquith says he never received a complaint from a parent or teacher during his 30 years as an educator.
Esquith also maintains that he has “suffered at the hands of (the LAUSD) for criticizing their wasteful practices, collusion with private business interests and lack of concern for student development.”
As a result, Esquith claims, the district has “attempted to silence me through a campaign of retaliation.”
Elsa Cruz, one of Esquith’s former students, denied in her own sworn statement that he ever sent her any inappropriate emails as alleged in the LAUSD’s statement of charges against him.
“The communications described in the statement of charges between Mr. Esquith and myself are small pieces of much larger conversations that are taken wholly out of context,” she said, adding that she believes the district “cherry-picked” portions of the emails to make it appear the entire conversations were sexual in nature.
The district fired Esquith last October, two months after he sued. His lawsuit does not contain any wrongful termination allegations.
That same month, Esquith filed another lawsuit against the LAUSD. The proposed class-action complaint alleges the district conducts “witch hunts” against older teachers in an effort to save money on retirement benefits.
—City News Service