L.A. Unified sex harassment settlement could unravel


A settlement with the employee who made allegations of sexual harassment against former L.A. schools Supt. Ramon C. Cortines threatened to unravel Tuesday over disputed terms of the agreement and its disclosure by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The allegations also have had fallout at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, which sent a delegation Tuesday to meet with Board of Education President Monica Garcia over changing the downtown school’s name.

The harassment allegations arose from an encounter between Scot Graham and the former superintendent at Cortines’ ranch in Kern County in July 2010. In a statement, Cortines last week described what happened as an episode of consensual, “adult behavior.”

Graham contended, through his attorneys, that Cortines had made inappropriate sexual advances.

The school system announced last week that the Board of Education had approved paying $200,000 and providing lifetime benefits to Graham, a senior manager for 12 years in the facilities division. In exchange, Graham agreed to resign as of May 31, the district said at a media briefing.

Officials also acknowledged they could not confirm that the agreement had been signed, but they said they anticipated no hold-ups.

That optimism was premature, in part because of the district’s announcement, which was managed by the public relations firm Cerrell & Associates.

“The press briefing occurred without Mr. Graham’s consent to be publicly identified, and before an agreement was signed,” according to a statement from Graham’s attorneys. “No final agreement has been reached.”

Graham’s attorneys also have disputed a timeline of events, supplied by the district, suggesting that officials handled the matter sensitively from the start. In addition, they said Graham understood the value of the lifetime health benefits to be $300,000, whereas the district told reporters the value was $250,000. That discrepancy has given them pause, they said, as well as additional reason to question the school system’s good faith.

The school system said it is sticking to the settlement agreed upon by both sides.

“The district relied on Mr. Graham’s acceptance and stands by the terms reached,” said Linda Savitt, an outside attorney representing the school system.

State law would prevent the district from firing Graham, who was earning $150,000 a year, for bringing a sexual-harassment allegation.

The harassment allegations revived a sore spot in how the arts high school was named. Garcia and her colleagues had overriden pledges to give students, parents and teachers a key role in choosing a name for the campus when the board decided to name it for Cortines.

A group of school leaders met with Garcia for 90 minutes Tuesday, raising that issue. In a letter, they stated concern about “how the name of our school will be associated with improper actions by a former superintendent.”

“The stigma,” they wrote, “is already negatively affecting [student] morale, perception of ethics, and self-esteem.”

Garcia was not persuaded, saying later that Cortines had long been a champion of arts education and also was instrumental in developing the school.

She suggested creating a supplemental, unofficial diploma with both the school’s current name and its former, temporary one: Los Angeles Central High School No. 9.

In an interview, Principal Norm Isaacs said that, for him, the most vital matter was budget cuts that could result in the layoffs of 11 of 14 arts teachers.

Garcia told them she was hopeful the district could work out a deal with the teachers union for cost-saving furlough days, which would preserve all or most of the jobs.