Fired Teacher in Bias Case Gets $1.4 Million
After a five-year legal fight, the state Assembly on Wednesday ratified a settlement of nearly $1.4 million in the case of a former state teacher of mentally ill students who alleged that she was fired because of racial discrimination.
By a 75-0 vote, the Assembly approved the measure by Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) to settle the suit with the teacher, Betty Andrews of Los Angeles, who formerly taught at Camarillo State Hospital. The bill, previously approved by the Senate, now goes to Gov. George Deukmejian for his consideration.
Jeffrey Fuller, a deputy attorney general, labeled the settlement “extremely good” for the state, citing a federal court jury decision last November awarding Andrews $2.5 million.
Andrews was fired in September, 1982, for 15 incidents of alleged misconduct, such as not reporting a student’s theft of a candy bar.
After a 20-day trial, the jury in U. S. District Court in Los Angeles ordered the state to pay Andrews, who is black, $750,000 in actual damages and $1.75 million in punitive damages. The state was also directed to pay about $200,000 in legal fees.
According to a Senate analysis of the bill, the jury determined that the allegations against Andrews were not based on fact and that Andrews’ supervisor had engaged in acts and made statements that showed a pattern of racial prejudice.
Said Fuller: “We had a white supervisor at Camarillo firing a black teacher who had been there . . . 17 years and who had always gotten satisfactory performance evaluations. The jury just believed the plaintiff.”
Moreover, the attorney general’s office regards the chances of reversal unlikely.
Andrews’ attorney was out of the country and unavailable to explain why he accepted the settlement. Of the nearly $1.4 million, Andrews is expected to receive nearly $1.1 million and her attorneys the rest.
Fuller cited several factors that led to Andrews’ acceptance of the settlement, including the possibility that the judge would have lowered the higher jury judgment and Andrews’ desire to avoid even a slim chance of an appeal by the state.
Further, Fuller said, the attorney general’s office agreed to aggressively lobby the Legislature to support the lower settlement.
Andrews, through her attorney’s office, expressed happiness that the bill had been approved. She said she was “pleased that the thing is finally getting resolved.”