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Former principal sues La Cañada Unified, alleging discrimination over pregnancy

A former La Cañada Unified principal has filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the district, claiming she became subject to unfavorable treatment — including negative evaluations, demotion and reassignment — when she told officials, shortly after her 2012 hiring, that she was pregnant.

In a suit filed Dec. 28 in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Christine Castillo alleged she was discriminated against by district Supt. Wendy Sinnette and others, who she said failed to accommodate a doctor's recommendation for reduced hours during pregnancy and later conducted negative employee evaluations that led to her being reassigned to a teaching position for the 2015-16 school year.

Castillo, who had been the La Cañada Elementary School principal, is seeking unspecified damages for alleged acts of discrimination, as well as intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She is demanding a jury trial.

According to the lawsuit, Sinnette reacted negatively in August 2012 after she learned Castillo was pregnant. The principal had been hired in July and gave birth in December of that year.

"Sinnette told [Castillo] that she would have liked to have known about [Castillo's] pregnancy sooner," the suit filed by Los Angeles-based law firm Geragos & Geragos said. "Sinnette also repeated her statement, 'I was very clear with you about what this job required,' adding, 'This staff needs a lot of support, and I told you that,' and 'I have to think about what we are going to tell your teachers and parents. This isn't going to go over well.'"

Also according to the suit, Sinnette and former Associate Supt. of Human Resources Patty Hager failed to grant Castillo the full extent of pregnancy leave prescribed by a doctor's note, and at no time during or after her pregnancy did they accommodate the difficulties presented by her condition.

"The stress that [Castillo] had been under due to her work resulted in birthing difficulties, and [she] ultimately had to undergo a caesarean section," the lawsuit said.

Negative opinions about Castillo's performance were expressed in later evaluations that caused her in April 2015 to file an internal grievance against the district for pregnancy discrimination, according to the lawsuit. This led to a consultant-conducted internal investigation of the district’s practices.

With full results of the internal investigation pending, according to the suit, Sinnette informed Castillo in mid-June 2015 that she was being reassigned to a classroom position for the following school year and had until the end of the day to clean out her office and return her keys.

Castillo's last day of work was June 16 of that year, according to the lawsuit. After that, she took leave pursuant to a doctor's note and was later placed on indefinite leave, her current status.

In a statement issued Monday by school board member Ellen Multari, the district said while officials are prohibited from speaking directly about the case, Castillo's suit "had nothing to do with the facts."

"Her placement into the classroom last year had absolutely nothing to do with her maternity leave of four years ago," the statement read. "Furthermore, we stand firmly alongside our superintendent, Wendy Sinnette, and will not tolerate any misrepresentation of her character or her behavior."


Twitter: @SaraCardine

Cardine writes for Times Community News


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