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Wrongful Termination: Hacienda La Punete Unified Whistleblower Awarded $555K

July 22, 2015 - Betty Ruelas, a former employee of Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, raised concerns about some unusual invoices that were paid to a company running the school district’s after school program. Afterwards, she was forced into early retirement because of her questions regarding the unusual invoices along with a disability and a need to take family medical leave from her work. The questionable invoices were from West Covina-based Institute for Student Success. They were one of two vendors that constituted the operational end of the grant-funded after school programs for Hacienda La Puente Unified School District.

The questionable invoices came from a vendor who was a friend of Superintendent Cynthia Parulan-Colfer. Upon returning from a family medical leave, Ruelas immediately took note of the new vendor and the high numbers attached to their invoices. In Ruelas’ opinion, it was obvious that the vendor was receiving abnormally high compensation for work provided. Parulan-Colfer’s response to accusations about the unfair compensation was that the claims they were highly paid and the fact that she was a friend were unrelated. She claims that Ruelas’ claims were simply false and meant as an attack against the school district.

The claims regarding the invoices were not even addressed by the jury in the case. They stuck to the other two reasons for the alleged wrongful termination.

The vendor began operating the district’s after school program in 2010 and continued through the 2014-15 school year. After a number of questions regarding the invoices, Ruelas claims her superiors on the job harassed her until being placed on disability leave for stress/mental health (April 2012). Once she returned from disability leave, she was transferred to another department. The new department only increased the stress level on the job. When Ruelas requested a transfer back to her old department, the request was denied.

Ruelas again went on disability leave in May 2013. She had developed hives on her eyelids as a result of the severe anxiety that she was suffering at work. She was then forced to retire early at age 53 in July 2013.

On May 13th, the jury ruled in Ruelas’ favor awarding her $555,000 in damages.

If you need assistance with wrongful termination claims or other southern California employment law issues, get in touch with the experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.


Fontana Unified Police Dispatcher Awarded in Wrongful Termination Case

July 21, 2015 - Jolee Berdnik, a police dispatcher, formerly with the Fontana Unified School District, alleges that she was fired from her position as a result of reporting an officer who was accused of sexual assault and rape of fellow dispatchers. After a month long trial, the jury verdict came back in her favor, awarding the wrongfully terminated police dispatcher over $315,000.

Berdnik’s 2012 wrongful termination lawsuit claimed that she was let go in retaliation for reporting officer John Garcia’s alleged conduct. Her superiors responded to her report of Officer Garcia’s behavior by terminating her from her position.

Three other current and former employees of Fontana Unified’s police division have made claims that Officer Garcia sexually assaulted or raped them on the school grounds. All three attacks allegedly took place in 2010 and 2011. All three have obtained representation to pursue legal recourse. 

After an investigation into the allegations originally reported by Berdnik, Officer Garcia was fired from his job, but he was not brought up to face official criminal charges.

If you are unclear what it means to be wrongfully terminated from your position review the standard definition of the phrase below:

Wrongful termination – a broad term/phrase that has a very specific legal meaning. Many individuals are terminated from their positions. And many will feel that the loss of their employment is “wrongful.” But the legal definition of “wrongful termination” is limited to only those very specific circumstances in which an employee is fired from their job for an illegal reason.

Common reasons that constitute “wrongful termination” include: your sex, your age, your race, your religion, complaints of sexual harassment, or reporting company wrongdoing to authorities (whistleblowing).

If you need additional assistance in determining whether or not you have been the victim of wrongful termination, please get in touch with the southern California employment law experts at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.