Torrance Catholic School Wrongful Termination Following Theft Scandal

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St. James Catholic School in Torrance was already facing a nun theft scandal. Now that the appeals court has overturned the lower court’s decision ruling that Biel, a former teacher at the California Catholic school, is a “minister” and barred from suing the church-operated school, they may be facing wrongful termination and discrimination claims as well.

History of Employment for Biel at St. James Catholic School in Torrance:

March 2013 – hired as a long-term substitute teacher

May 2013 – hired as the school’s full-time fifth-grade teacher

April 2014 – Biel was diagnosed with breast cancer

April 2014 – Biel advised Kreuper she would start treatments in May. Just a few weeks later, Kreuper advised Biel her contract would not be renewed. The reason stated was that it would not be fair to ask students to accommodate her needed leave by having two teachers in one year. Kreuper also stated that Biel did not run a strict classroom.

2015 – Biel filed a federal suit alleging discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

January 2017 – Biel was barred from suing the school under the ADA when a lower court’s ruling decided she was legally a “minister” and thus fell under the “ministerial exemption” that bars a minster from filing civil rights claims against their religious organization. This decision was based on the fact that Biel’s teaching duties included sharing Catholic doctrine, including a 30-minute religion class four days a week.

Dec. 17, 2018 – the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s decision, saying Biel could not be a minister as she had no Catholic pedagogy training upon her hire and the school did not have any religious requirements for her job. Additionally, they noted that her title was teacher, not minister. The archdiocese intends to contest the ruling.

It’s important to note when considering Biel’s history of employment at St. James Catholic School in Torrance that there is only one formal evaluation on record for Biel and it was positive. The evaluation was completed by Kreuper, the principal, in which she praised Biel’s “very good” work and noted that she promoted a safe and caring learning environment. Areas for improvement that were listed in the formal evaluation were: two students were coloring in their books, and some students had cluttered desks.  

Biel claims she was terminated because of her cancer diagnosis and necessary treatment; because the school didn’t want to accommodate her finite leave of absence.  

The fact that the principal, Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, was the one making employment decisions on behalf of the school and is currently implicated in the theft scandal rocking the school for activities that occurred during the same time period may throw additional doubt on her testimony regarding the case.

If you have been wrongfully terminated from a job or if you are being discriminated against due to a disability, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP today.

California Catholic School May Face Lawsuit After Firing Teacher

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Kristen Biel, a former teacher at St. James Catholic School in Torrance, needed time off from her job after recently being diagnosed with breast cancer in Spring 2014. She was in need of a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Biel requested a leave of absence during the upcoming fall semester from Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, the school’s principal. Just weeks later, Biel was fired.

Last month, Biel was granted the right to sue the school in federal court for discrimination when an appeals court overturned the lower court decision that she was a “minister” in the eyes of the court and barred from suing a church-operated school. This isn’t the first time St. James School and Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper have faced legal allegations. Kreuper, along with another nun, was accused of stealing from student tuition checks, fees and fundraisers for the school for over a decade. The issue was recently announced by school officials.

Kreuper, 77 years old, and her vice principal, Sister Lana Chang, 67 years old, essentially rerouted hundreds of thousands of dollars into a church bank account that was overlooked by many for years. They then used this overlooked account to pay for personal expenses. Parents were advised of the situation at a meeting in Redondo Beach recently. Parents asked about the situation said that the nuns were open in talking about gambling trips to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe vacations, but that they claimed Chang had wealthy relatives that paid their expenses.

Auditors working alongside the Archdiocese in Los Angeles have accounted for $500,000 of stolen funds, but the number will most likely continue to grow as the investigation continues. Initially, the archdiocese intended to handle the investigation internally and not press charges, but later they changed course stating that they would be cooperating with police and that they plan to be a complaining party in the criminal case. Criminal complaints have not yet been filed. The police investigation is ongoing. Police are requesting copies of old tuition checks from parents and details regarding any cash donations.

Biel, 53 years old, started working at St. James in March 2013. She was hired as a long-term substitute teacher. By the end of the year, she was hired as the school’s full-time fifth-grade teacher. She received a formal, positive evaluation from Kreuper that praised her “good work” in promoting a safe and caring learning environment. Areas of improvement included in the one official review noted two students were coloring in their books and some of the students had cluttered desks.

When Biel was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2014, she advised Kreuper she would start treatments within the month. A few weeks later, Kreuper advised Biel she wouldn’t be renewing her contract and claimed it was because it would be unfair for student to accommodate her leave by having two teachers in one year. She also accused Biel of not running a strict classroom even though that complaint was not included in Biel’s one official evaluation.

Biel filed a federal lawsuit against St. James in 2015. She included allegations of discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If you need help because you have been wrongfully terminated from your job or if you are being discriminated against in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP today.

$107,000 Payment to Settle San Ysidro Wrongful Termination Suit

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Danielle Clark is the former district official who was fired in 2016 without explanation and just 11 days after the San Ysidro school board honored her for hard work and dedication. Two years later, the San Ysidro school board approves a $107,000 payment to settle her wrongful termination suit. Clark was the district’s special education director, but only for a short time period (less than five months). After she was abruptly let go from her position, she sued the district for wrongful termination.

Danielle Clark’s termination occurred under Julio Fonseca, the former Superintendent. After his resignation last year, a state audit was conducted. The audit revealed that Fonseca’s top deputy was overpaid $324,000 (including life insurance and vacation days). The district will be undergoing an additional state audit looking at past contracts and vendor payments in connection to the school’s construction projects.

The $107,000 payment to Clark was approved by the school board as part of their regular monthly meeting. Clark last heard from the board 3-4 weeks previously and was actually expecting a settlement of at least $150,000. She was not aware that any payment had been formally approved until she was contacted by the media. As of yet, she has not received any payment from the media.

Very few details were made public regarding the wrongful termination suit and the negotiations leading to the agreement intended to resolve the lawsuit. The line item on the board’s meeting agenda actually made no mention of Danielle Clark, her wrongful termination suit, or even her former job or department. Clark’s settlement was listed with her name amid 140 other listed expenses on a document that was one of 200 pages of material and backup material for the monthly board meeting. The vote at the meeting was 3-0. Two of the board members were absent (Marcos Diaz and Antonio Martinez). The board gave approval for the district’s attorneys to settle the case in May 2018.

If you need to talk to an experienced California employment law attorney because you have been wrongfully terminated from your job, please get in touch with Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Fired Home Depot Employee Wins Over the Jury in Wrongful Termination Lawsuit

A former Home Depot employee was awarded $175,500 by a California state court jury this month. The jury found that Home Depot, the retail giant, did not provide necessary and reasonable accommodations for the employee’s disability due to breast cancer surgery and varicose veins. The jury also found that the employee was not protected from retaliation after she reported improper sales practices that were in use at the store location where she was employed.

The jury sided with the plaintiff, Patricia Tillotson, when they found in her favor but awarded her far less than the originally sought after $3.3 million. Tillotson was awarded $75,500 in past economic damages and $100,000 in future economic damages. The jury declined to award Tillotson damages for past or future emotional distress.

The plaintiff filed suit against Home Depot in 2015 after she was fired for supposedly providing a customer with inaccurate markdowns. She maintains that she was actually terminated because of her age, her disability, and for acting as a whistleblower. When she was fired, Tillotson was 58 years old. She was the oldest employee in her Home Depot department.

The retail giant argued that Tillotson’s whole department was fired due to an investigation that found the employees in that department were providing unauthorized markdowns to Home Depot customers. They specifically claim that her termination was not due to her medical conditions and that her whistleblower complaints had nothing to do with the decision to end her employment.

The jury found that Tillotson’s age and disability were not the foundation for Home Depot’s decision to terminate her employment. But they did find that Home Depot’s failure to participate in good faith efforts to accommodate Tillotson’s disability that left her having difficulty lifting objects and working in a position where standing for extended periods would not be necessary. The jurors found that the company’s failure to make these efforts resulted in harm.

If you have been denied reasonable accommodations for your disability in the workplace or if you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

$1.5 Million Awarded to Valley Med Chief Psychiatrist

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Dr. Jan Weber, former chief psychiatrist, was fired from his job with Valley Medical Center in 2014. This month, he was awarded $1.5 million in damages to resolve his California wrongful termination lawsuit.

What is Wrongful Termination? The legal definition of wrongful termination or wrongful dismissal is to be in a situation where an employee’s contract of employment is terminated by the employer in a way that breaches one or more terms in the contract of employment or is in violation of employment law.

Is There a Statue of Limitations for Wrongful Termination Claims? The statute of limitations is the time limit set by law during which an individual can file a lawsuit based on a claim. If you are an employee who was wrongfully terminated from your job, and you file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired, the case can be thrown out. Statutes of limitations can be set by either state or federal law.

Dr. Jan Weber headed the hospital’s child and adolescent psychiatry division for over five years. In late 2014, he was let go by the county after he complained about unsafe work conditions and young patients at the institution who were being offered substandard care.

Dr. Jan Weber took notice of substandard care provided to youth patients at the facility throughout the five years he worked there as the chief psychiatrist. At the end of his term with the medical treatment center, Weber was 49 years old and was responsible for supervising approximately eight different psychiatrists in the Valley Medical Center’s mental health department.

The case ended with a three-week-long trial. The trial included testimonies from County Executive Jeff Smith and Dr. Michael Meade, Valley Med’s chair of psychiatry. The Clara County jury came back in favor of the plaintiff in the case. They held the county liable for Weber’s past and future financial loss as well as his emotional distress.

If you need help after being wrongfully terminated or if you are experiencing other employment law violations in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLPas soon as possible.

$3.2M Awarded to Fired California Hospital Employee in Wrongful Termination and Discrimination Suit

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On November 5th, 2018, a former warehouse employee at Loma Linda University Medical Center was awarded $3.2 million by a jury. The plaintiff, 44-year old Hugo Lizarraga, claims that he was harassed by his supervisors at the California medical facility for years until he was eventually fired due to his Islamic beliefs.

Lizarraga worked in the California hospital warehouse for 20 years. He claims that he was a victim of both religious and disability discrimination on the part of his supervisors, other employees, and the human resources department for more than six years. Lizarraga filed a California discrimination lawsuit in September 2016.

Legal Definitions:

Wrongful Termination – A situation in which an employee’s contract of employment is terminated by the employer and the termination breaches one or more terms of the contract of employment, a statute provision, or employment law.

Religious Discrimination – A situation in which an individual or entity treats a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. The law protects not only those individuals who belong to traditional, organized religious, like Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also those who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.

Disability Discrimination – A situation in which an employer or other entity that is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or Rehabilitation Act, treats a qualified applicant or employee unfavorably because they have a disability.

According to the lawsuit, Lizarraga worked at the hospital for more than 10 years and never experienced harassment. The harassment began in 2012 after he converted to Islam, broke his thumb and had a physician place him on modified duty. At that point, Lizarraga’s supervisors started to harass him.

The Loma Linda, California hospital disagrees with the jury’s verdict and denies the allegations claiming that Lizarraga was not discharged due to his Islamic beliefs, but because reported threatening conduct. The hospital spokesperson claimed that the facility complies with federal and state laws on discrimination and harassment and does not tolerate either.

If you have concerns about what constitutes workplace discrimination or if you have been wrongfully terminated due to a disability or your religious beliefs, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.

Wrongful Termination Suit Results in $3M For Catholic School Teacher

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A California jury recently awarded over $3.5 million to a former Catholic school teacher, Kourtney Liggins, who alleged that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles fired her from her position as the science teacher at LA’s Transfiguration School for being pregnant and unwed. Kourtney Liggins’ lawsuit alleged wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Transfiguration School is a Catholic parochial school that is linked with the Church of Transfiguration. The Transfiguration School was founded in 1832 by Varela. It was opened for registration to children of any religion/faith in 1969. The Transfiguration School has higher than average academic standards and was the winner of the National Blue Ribbon Schools Award in 2011. 

Legal Definitions:

Wrongful Termination – A situation in which an employee’s contract of employment is terminated by the employer and the termination breaches one or more terms of the contract of employment, a statute provision, or employment law.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress – A situation in which an individual or entity acts abominably or outrageously with the intention of causing another to suffer severe emotional distress. It often occurs in the form of a vocal threat of future harm.

Major news outlets reported that jurors were in deliberation for less than a day before they announced their decision – finding in favor of Kourtney Liggins, ex-science teacher for the Catholic school in Los Angeles.

The panel of jurors found the archdiocese and Reverend Michael Tang, former pastor of the Church of the Transfiguration, liable in the case. Liggins, now 48 years old, says that when the situation occurred in 2012, she was seven months pregnant. Tang took her aside and advised her that her pregnancy would “morally corrupt” her science students there at the school. In 2013, her teaching contract was not renewed.

If you have been wrongfully terminated or are experiencing discrimination in the workplace, please get in touch with one of the California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.