Two former employees file lawsuit accusing Lancaster middle school principal of subjecting female teachers to harassment and 'sex-based ridicule'

A former vice principal and a former teacher at a middle school in Lancaster said they were forced to quit in June because the school principal subjected women to “sex-based ridicule” and “harassed, discriminated against, or retaliated against” numerous female employees, according to a lawsuit filed this week.

The lawsuit, filed by Dawn Dolinski and Jody Finks against the Eastside Union School District and Francisco Pinto, principal of Gifford C. Cole Middle School, cited a number of alleged incidents that they claim portrayed a sexist and hostile work environment under Pinto.

“Principal Pinto had a reputation among teachers and staff for retaliating against women who, like Ms. Dolinski, did not fit his sexist view that women should act with a submissive manner and be subservient to men,” the lawsuit claims. “A female teacher or staff member who was experiencing career success, recognition from the District, or was strong-willed, would generally become the target of Principal Pinto’s attacks.”

In addition, the lawsuit claims, the school district was put on notice of Pinto’s conduct by at least 15 grievances filed in the 2015-2016 school year by female teachers and staff — but those who complained “were not protected by the District, and instead were subjected to more intense harassment from Principal Pinto” and “suffered first-hand the retaliatory tactics that Principal Pinto took against teachers and staff that complained about him.”

In an email Saturday to The Times, Melinda Jaggi, Eastside Union’s interim superintendent, said the district does not comment on pending litigation. Pinto did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Dolinksi was hired in 2015 as a special education teacher and promoted to vice principal the following academic year, according to the lawsuit. Finks had been working as a teacher since August 2009.

Soon after Dolinkski began working for Pinto, the lawsuit states, she became aware of Pinto’s views of women and was “bombarded with misogynistic comments and behavior.”

Pinto regularly called her “Double D,” in reference to her initials and a woman’s bra size, according to the lawsuit. He discussed a female teacher’s breasts with another administrator and “regularly expressed his judgement of the bodies and attractiveness of female teachers at Cole Middle School,” the lawsuit states. “After Principal Pinto smelled a co-worker cooking fish, he exclaimed that the odor must be coming from Ms. Dolinski’s genitals.”

Dolinski first approached the situation delicately — “injecting some humor so as not to upset Principal Pinto” — but after repeated requests for Pinto to stop his behavior, she became more direct, according to the lawsuit.

As she became more vocal in her complaints, Pinto “doubled down on his offense remarks” and his “rhetoric became so offensive that Ms. Dolinski frequently needed to excuse herself,” the lawsuit claims. “On various occasions, Principal Pinto’s attacks against Ms. Dolinski so disturbed her that she began crying in front of her coworkers.”

Pinto told her to “deal with it or resign,” according to the lawsuit, and also stripped her of some responsibilities, such as conducting teacher evaluations and leading staff professional development, and assigned her less-desirable tasks, such as supervising student sports games.

The lawsuit also cites similar allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation against Finks, a teacher with a “strong-willed personality,” and two other female teachers who spoke up against Pinto. The suit seeks unspecified punitive damages and compensatory damages, including for emotional distress, lost wages and benefits, and past and future medical expenses.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Carlsbad-based attorney David M. Peer, who is representing Dolinski and Finks.

rosanna.xia@latimes.com

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