Burbank Unified settles lawsuit with former special education director

Burbank Unified board president Roberta Reynolds announced a unanimous 5-0 vote on Thursday as the district settled a wrongful termination lawsuit for $300,000.
(Tim Berger / Burbank Leader)

The Burbank Unified School District has settled a wrongful termination lawsuit with former special education director Sunita Batra for $300,000, plus attorney fees, as was noted during the latest board meeting Thursday evening.

Roberta Reynolds, school board president, announced the unanimous 5-0 vote of approval made during closed session, which ends a process that began in September 2017.

“The board took action to approve the agreement with [the] plaintiff in exchange for a full release of all claims for settlement of $300,000,” Reynolds said. “Attorney fees and cost will be decided by the court to be paid by the [district’s joint-powers authority insurance].”

Batra initially filed her lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Sept. 18, 2017, and named the district, Supt. Matt Hill and Tom Kissinger, the outgoing assistant superintendent in charge of instructional services, as defendants.

While Batra did not list a specific dollar amount in her lawsuit, the special education veteran of 25 years asked for general and special damages, cost of the suit, attorneys’ fees and interest on damages.

She also looked for declaratory and equitable relief, which can translate into reinstatement, restoration of seniority and compensation for lost future earnings.

Batra was represented by Santa Monica-based law firm Sherigan & Associates and its senior associate attorney Will Reed.

“Sunita is looking to be made whole again,” Reed said in March. “She’s looking to recover from severe damage.”

Reed said via email on Monday the settlement limited his ability to comment, and he did not respond to further questions from the Leader.

Hill was not immediately available for comment, while Kissinger was unavailable for comment after recently accepting an assistant superintendent job with the Del Norte County Unified School District.

Batra was hired in 2012 and her employment lasted until her resignation on April 30, 2017.

Batra received high marks early with the district as former Burbank Unified Supt. Jan Britz allegedly told her, as stated in court documents, in June 2015, “You are so knowledgeable and have made so many positive changes that have had positive effects on the district.”

According to Batra, everything changed when Hill was hired the following month and Kissinger became Batra’s direct supervisor.

From that point, Batra claimed in court documents that Kissinger allegedly asked her to repeatedly break special-education compliance laws.

One instance, noted in court documents, took place over the summer of 2015 when Kissinger allegedly asked Batra to assess special education students during the summer, which Batra denied to do since, according to her, that would put the district out of compliance.

Batra also claimed Hill and Kissinger covertly worked toward her dismissal, with Kissinger allegedly “keeping a secret journal” of all of Batra’s errors and Hill conducting “secret” meetings with special-education teachers to solicit complaints.

Batra claims she appealed to several parties — Hill, former human resources director Anita Schackman, board member Charlene Tabet and others — to complain about a hostile work environment. Their responses, according to Batra, were tepid or nonexistent.

She further says Kissinger micromanaged her and even spent “six to eight hours a day” shadowing her.

Batra eventually went on stress or medical leave three times between May 2016 and January 2017.

Two months later, Batra alleges in court documents, she was reassigned from special education director to school psychologist, which came with an approximately $50,000 annual salary loss.

A month later, Batra resigned.

For their part, Hill and Kissinger countered in court documents that Batra placed compliance issues above the well-being of students.

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