A former Palm Springs Unified special education teacher is suing the school district for allegedly forcing him to resign when he reported suspicions about a co-worker — convicted child molester John David Yoder.The lawsuit, filed Tuesday on behalf of John Villani, alleges that Villani was forced to resign after raising concerns about Yoder to his superiors and that members of the school district spread “false and disparaging statements about him,” preventing him from securing employment at other school districts in the Coachella Valley.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial and unspecified damages.
School district officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to the suit, Villani was employed by the district from 2011 to 2014 and worked for about a year and a half as a special education teacher and case manager at the Center for Learning and Development in Desert Hot Springs, where Yoder also worked as a teacher’s aide.
Yoder was assigned to Villani’s class, the suit states, and Villani witnessed him engaging in inappropriate conduct with a student identified as Child Doe, including “paying undue and excessive attention to him while ignoring the needs of other students.” Villani said he also suspected that Yoder sometimes brought the child to his home.
In May, Yoder was sentenced to 24 years in prison for his role in organizing a child porn ring that preyed on several young boys in Desert Hot Springs, including a special needs boy he adopted. According to the suit, Child Doe testified during the criminal trial that he was molested by Yoder.
According to the lawsuit, prior to Yoder’s 2015 arrest, Villani witnessed Yoder using school computers to search for young boys to adopt, saying, “I want to find a beautiful boy to add to my collection.”
Specifically regarding Child Doe, Villani contends his immediate superior told him not to interfere with the progress Yoder was making with the child, while also authorizing one-on-one sessions between Yoder and the boy in a separate classroom, in violation of school protocol.
Villani claims his superiors ignored his concerns and told him to stop harassing Yoder.
The suit states that Villani made a verbal complaint to Child Protective Services regarding Yoder, but never filed a written complaint for fear of retaliation from the school district. The suit also states that CPS did not ask him to submit a written report.
Villani claims the district gave him an ultimatum to either transfer to another school or be fired for his continued comments regarding Yoder. He accepted the transfer because “he was not going to go out on leave as if he was guilty of something, and wanted to continue working with kids.”
Villani then worked at Mount San Jacinto High School for about a month before resigning at the end of the 2013-14 year, the suit claims, and was unable to find any other work in the Coachella Valley, because PSUSD members “reported to prospective employers that Villani made false accusations against other school district employees.”
Later that year, he was able to find a job in Boise, Idaho, where he currently lives, according to the suit.
The suit alleges that by “constructively terminating Villani,” the district violated state law barring employers from retaliating against employees for disclosing information they believe violates state or federal statutes.
The filing follows another lawsuit filed against the district earlier this year by a teenager only identified as “E.S.,” claiming he was molested by Yoder over the course of six months while attending the Center for Learning and Development. It is uncertain whether Child Doe and “E.S.” are the same boy.
That suit claims that the school district not only turned a blind eye to Yoder’s activities, but also intentionally destroyed evidence of Yoder’s sexual abuse.
The city of Desert Hot Springs is also named in that suit for alleged negligence in failing to protect children from the dangers of sexual abuse at two city parks.
— City News Service
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