An attorney for a former El Monte Union High School District told a jury Friday that his client was not given a chance to correct deficiencies in her leadership and was instead unjustly fired, but a lawyer for the district argued that the ex-schools chief got what she deserved.
“If she did her job, she would have stayed there,” EMUHSD attorney Dennis Walsh said during final arguments in trial of Irella Perez’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, which alleges gender discrimination and retaliation.
But Perez’s lawyer, Jamon Hicks, said the EMUHSD treated Perez unfairly.
“She’s not saying she’s perfect, she’s saying she didn’t do anything to lose her job,” Hicks said. “You talk to her, you help her, you give her a chance.”
Much of Perez’s case centers around her allegations that she was bullied by former Board Member Maria-Elena Talamantes and that the district did nothing about it. Perez said Talamantes questioned how the plaintiff, a single mother, could be a good mom to her children while filling such a difficult job as leading a school district. Perez also alleges that despite being a woman herself, Talamantes preferred a man for the job.
Talamantes has denied making such comments. Talamantes, who served on the board during the entire time Perez was superintendent, testified Wednesday that the board’s problems with the then-schools chief ranged from alleged improper uses of public funds to her inability to use proper grammar in communications — both internal and those sent to the community.
Perez — also vice president of the Whittier City School District Board of Education — said she tried without success to come to terms with Talamantes, a member of the EMUHSD board in 2012-17.
She said she is still unsure how their relationship soured after the plaintiff was unanimously approved by the board as the district’s superintendent in March 2015.
Perez said she received a positive evaluation in October 2015, but was put on paid leave in March 2016 and fired five months later.
Walsh has argued that Perez’s firing was justified for a number of reasons, including spending of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to send a mailer to area voters — but not parents — in September 2015. The brochure described the district’s achievements and included quotes from board members at the time, Esthela Torres de Siegrist and Salvador Ramirez, prompting the Fair Political Practices Commission to fine the district, according to Walsh.
Walsh presented evidence that he argued show it was actually Perez who bullied people and not the other way around.
But Perez denied any wrongdoing regarding the mailer, saying the board had requested its distribution. She also denied allegations that she dubbed herself the “ruler” and the “queen” of the district.