2 former Newport-Mesa employees end lawsuit against school district and superintendent

A lawsuit filed last year by two former Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials against the district and the superintendent, alleging that he created a workplace culture of fear and intimidation that compelled them to leave their jobs, has been dropped through a settlement, according to Orange County Superior Court records.

Former district spokeswoman Laura Boss, former Asst. Supt. Ann Huntington and Supt. Fred Navarro entered an agreement to end the lawsuit in March.

The settlement was reached “to avoid the uncertainty, time and expense of litigation,” the document states.

Boss and Huntington did not receive money in the settlement, according to the district. The agreement states all the parties are responsible for their own attorney costs.

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Boss and Huntington filed a petition with the court April 3 to formally dismiss the lawsuit. The suit, filed in January 2016, was expected to move to trial in June, according to court filings.

Boss and Huntington had sought unspecified economic and punitive damages against Navarro, plus general damages and attorney fees.

It isn’t clear why Boss and Huntington chose to end the lawsuit. Their attorney, William Crosby, declined to comment Wednesday, citing attorney-client privilege.

Navarro said in a statement that “we typically do not comment on legal issues; however, we are pleased to have resolution to this case.”

“We have and will continue to hold ourself to a high level of ethical standards,” he added.

The settlement agreement includes a non-disparagement clause in which Boss and Huntington agree to “refrain from making any public or private statements which disparage [Navarro], [his] affiliates or [his] respective business or personal affairs.”

According to Boss and Huntington’s statements in court documents, they almost immediately began to have issues with Navarro after he was hired in 2012. Boss said she needed to seek therapy, and Huntington claimed she had to take stress leave.

The lawsuit alleges Navarro excluded Boss and Huntington from cabinet discussions, failed to follow “normal protocols” when assigning projects in their divisions and undermined their authority by assigning tasks to their subordinates without consulting them.

“[They] were also denied important information, their advice and input was ignored and they were put on the spot and embarrassed by Navarro in front of colleagues during meetings,” the lawsuit states.

Boss, who was hired by Newport-Mesa in 1999, resigned in June 2015. Huntington retired the following month. Both claimed they felt compelled to leave because of Navarro’s management style.

In October 2014, Boss, Huntington and John Caldecott , who was then the district’s director of human resources, joined in a formal complaint to the school board against Navarro, alleging a toxic work environment.

Boss and Huntington claimed in their lawsuit that the board did not investigate their allegations.

After the complaint to the school board, the issues with Navarro became more severe, Boss and Huntington alleged.

In January 2015, they claimed, Navarro waved his hands and shouted at Boss during a meeting in front of her peers.

Boss and Huntington alleged in the lawsuit that Navarro intentionally inflicted emotional distress and that the board was negligent in not investigating.

Court filings claim that in one of their first conversations, Navarro asked Boss whether she had any dirt on a colleague and if she would help him fire her.

“Relationships that had been strong were ripped apart because the seeds of fear and intimidation were planted internally,” Boss wrote in a letter to board members in July 2015. “And Fred ignited it, watched it play out, actually spoke about enjoying it and supported it.”

Huntington, who began working in Newport-Mesa in 2008, alleged in the suit that she was discriminated against because of her age and was forced to retire with two years left on her contract. She estimated her loss of future earnings at more than $500,000, court documents state.

hannah.fry@latimes.com

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

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