Judge rejects sex harassment claim against ex-L.A. Unified chief

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has ruled against a midlevel manager who had sued former L.A. schools Supt. Ramon Cortines, alleging sexual harassment.

Judge William F. Fahey ruled that real estate manager Scot Graham failed to file his claim within the six-month time limit allowed in such cases, said Sean Rossall, a spokesman for the L.A. Unified School District. The ruling is dated last Wednesday but was issued late Friday, according to the district.

The judge did not rule on the merits of the allegations.

An attorney representing Graham said he plans to appeal, and Graham said he also may seek redress through the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which handles sexual harassment complaints.


The suit stems primarily from Graham’s visit to Cortines’ Kern County ranch in July 2010. Cortines has said that he and Graham engaged in one episode of consensual “adult behavior,” which Cortines characterized as bad judgment on his part.

Graham, 56, alleges that, over the course of two days, Cortines repeatedly tried to engage him in unwanted sexual behavior, and that he felt trapped.

Graham also alleges that later, two supervisors failed to report the issue for several weeks after Graham confided in them. Subsequently, L.A. Unified General Counsel David Holmquist allegedly urged him to drop the matter, according to the suit, which was filed last July.

The district contends that Graham insisted to his supervisors that the alleged incident should not be acted on, and that officials respected his wishes, while also directing him to report any future misconduct.

Cortines, 80, a leading national figure in education, retired in April 2011.

In March 2012, Graham’s attorneys notified L.A. Unified that they intended to file a harassment claim. In May, the Board of Education approved a cash settlement of $200,000 plus lifetime health benefits for Graham, who also agreed to leave his $150,000-a-year job as director of leasing and asset management.

The agreement broke down in part because district officials made it public before it was final. Graham ultimately returned to work.

“The facts alone without ever hearing my side of the story should be sickening to the community,” Graham wrote in an email. “Superintendent Cortines admitted that he took a married employee to his vacation home and had inappropriate sexual relations.”

Meanwhile, parents, students and staff last week voted to change the name of the downtown Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts.

Cortines’ name on the district’s visually striking $232-million high school was an issue of contention even before the harassment allegations. The school board overrode its own school naming process to honor Cortines. Board President Monica Garcia, who represents the school, said the action was justified based on Cortines’ long service as well as his dedication to the arts and to the arts high school.

But the allegations helped stoke continued unhappiness over the naming.

In balloting organized at the school, about 60% of participants opted for the name Grand School of Visual and Performing Arts, a reference to the Grand Avenue location, said former PTA leader Judi Bell, a member of the renaming committee.

In second place, with 36%, was a name that incorporated "#9,” which refers to the project number before the school was named — and the fact that the campus opened on Sept. 9, 2009. The current name attracted just under 4% of the votes. Leaders of the effort now intend to bring the matter to the Board of Education for consideration.

About half the students voted as well as about 200 parents and 33 staff members. Some staff members expressed concern about retaliation if they took part in the process.