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Former principal files lawsuit against La Cañada Unified alleging discrimination over pregnancy

A former La Cañada Unified principal has filed a sex discrimination lawsuit against the district, claiming she became subject to unfavorable treatment — including negative evaluations, demotion and reassignment — when she told officials, shortly after her 2012 hiring, that she was pregnant.

In a suit filed Dec. 28 through the Los Angeles County Superior Court, former La Cañada Elementary School Principal Christine Castillo alleges she was discriminated against by LCUSD Supt. Wendy Sinnette, among other district employees, who she claims failed to accommodate a doctor's recommendation for reduced hours during pregnancy and later conducted negative employee evaluations that led to her being reassigned to a teaching position for the 2015-16 school year.

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The suit states Castillo is seeking unspecified damages, including punitive damages, for alleged acts of discrimination as well as intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She is demanding a jury trial.

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Castillo — who gave birth to daughter Alissa on Dec. 19, 2012 — alleges Sinnette reacted negatively in August of that year after she learned the elementary school principal, hired in July, was pregnant. The baby's father is La Cañada High School Principal Ian McFeat, who was hired by the LCUSD at about the same time as Castillo. The couple relocated together here from Washington state.

"Sinnette told [Castillo] that she would have liked to have known about [Castillo's] pregnancy sooner," states the suit filed by Los Angeles-based law firm Geragos & Geragos. "Sinnette also repeated her statement, 'I was very clear with you about what this job required,' adding, 'This staff needs a lot of support, and I told you that,' and 'I have to think about what we are going to tell your teachers and parents. This isn't going to go over well.'"

Also according to the suit, Sinnette and former Associate Supt. of Human Resources Patty Hager failed to grant Castillo the full extent of pregnancy leave the suit says was prescribed by a doctor's note and at no time during or after her pregnancy accommodated the difficulties presented by her condition.

"The stress that [Castillo] had been under due to her work resulted in birthing difficulties, and [she] ultimately had to undergo a caesarean section," the lawsuit states.

Negative opinions about Castillo's performance were expressed in later evaluations that caused Castillo in April 2015 to file an internal grievance against the district for pregnancy discrimination, according to the lawsuit. This led to a consultant-conducted internal investigation of LCUSD's practices.

In mid-June 2015, with full results of the internal investigation still pending, Sinnette informed Castillo she was being reassigned to a classroom position for the following school year and said she had until the end of the day to clean out her La Cañada Elementary School office and return her keys, the lawsuit states.

Castillo's last day of work was June 16 of that year, according to the lawsuit. After that, she took leave pursuant to a doctor's note and was later placed on indefinite leave, her current status.

Also on that June 16, district officials announced Emily Blaney, a technology integration teacher on special assignment, had been selected as the school's principal for the following school year. That move was made official days later, on June 22, 2015, by a unanimous vote in a special closed-session meeting of the La Cañada school board.

In a statement issued Monday by school board member Ellen Multari, the district said while officials are prohibited from speaking directly about the case, Castillo's suit "had nothing to do with the facts."

"Her placement into the classroom last year had absolutely nothing to do with her maternity leave of four years ago," the statement reads. "Furthermore, we stand firmly alongside our superintendent, Wendy Sinnette, and will not tolerate any misrepresentation of her character or her behavior."

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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