Former education commissioner sues BOE

FORMER Education Commissioner Cynthia I. Deleon Guerrero has filed a lawsuit against Board of Education members in their official capacities, alleging wrongful termination, breach of contract and violation of constitutional rights.

Named as defendants were BOE Chairwoman MaryLou Ada, members Janice A. Tenorio, Herman T. Guerrero, Florine M. Hofschneider and Herman M. Atalig.

The former commissioner is demanding a jury trial and has asked the court to award her compensatory and punitive damages against the individual board members in the amounts to be proven at trial.

Cynthia I. Deleon GuerreroCynthia I. Deleon Guerrero

She is also seeking compensatory damages against the board in the amount of $350,000; reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of suit; and any and all other remedies the court may find just and equitable.

Through her lawyer, Brien Sers Nicholas, Deleon Guerrero filed the verified complaint in Superior Court on Wednesday.

The five BOE members voted to terminate her contract effective Nov. 5, 2017 but did not provide grounds for termination, the lawsuit stated.

Deleon Guerrero was supposed to be employed by the BOE for a term of four years, from Nov. 21, 2016 to Nov. 20, 2020, with an annual salary of $90,000 and transportation allowance of $800, the complaint stated.

Her employment contract also mandated the BOE to evaluate her on an annual basis with an advanced notice of 15 days and with agreed-upon evaluation tools to be used to evaluate her. It likewise allowed for termination without cause upon the positive vote of three BOE members.

On Oct. 30, 2017 the BOE unanimously voted to terminate Deleon Guerrero’s contract without cause.

The lawsuit stated that in an attempt to justify the purported termination of Deleon Guerrero without cause, Ada, in her capacity as BOE chairwoman, made a public statement in the media, saying that Deleon Guerrero was terminated because she was not getting along with the BOE members.

Sers Nicholas said Ada’s statement constituted “for cause” based on the facts and circumstances of the case, and therefore contrary to the representation of the defendants.

Deleon Guerrero also alleges in the complaint that her termination was a retaliation for her calling out and questioning BOE members in their continued micromanagement of the Public School System, and for her refusal to consent to board’s continued requests for funding from PSS because they had exhausted all of their budget for FY 2016-2017.

Sers Nicholas said immediately upon being hired as commissioner, Deleon Guerrero was asked by the board to remove certain key management officials from PSS which she refused to.

Her lawyer said Deleon Guerrero requested that these officials be left alone as they were very much qualified to assist PSS and her in doing her job.

Nicholas said Deleon Guerrero, as time went on, also began to question why certain travel authorizations for PSS employees needing to travel off-island for PSS business were being denied for no reason by the board, “all to the detriment of PSS.”

Deleon Guerrero also alleges that the defendants were able to reorganize the positions of legal counsels hired by PSS by moving them to the BOE, leaving PSS and Deleon Guerrero without any legal counsel for assistance.

In addition, she said the board attempted to have her fund the legal counsel positions with PSS funds, which Deleon Guerrero refused to do, the lawsuit stated.

The complaint likewise alleges that on another occasion, the board demanded that Deleon Guerrero transfer some $175,000 of PSS funds to the account of the board because the defendants had exhausted their allotted budget for FY 2016-2017.

Sers Nicholas said Deleon Guerrero refused because, based on her understanding, it was against the law to do so.

The lawyer said “the amount of hostility toward Deleon Guerrero…only grew as time went on and was displayed most prominently at private and public meetings which the board called, with her being berated and harassed in front of others and the individual board members themselves.”

To show the kind of micromanagement Deleon Guerrero had to put up with the board, Sers Nicolas mentioned that in one such private meeting with the BOE, she was told that the way her monthly report was being presented to the board was not acceptable.

Sers Nicholas said the actions of the board against Deleon Guerrero were intentional, hurtful and in total disregard of her rights.

At all times relevant, he said, Deleon Guerrero was not afforded an opportunity to be heard regarding her evaluation and, more importantly, the termination of her employment contract.

Asked for comment, BOE Chairwoman MaryLou Ada said: “I cannot comment on the lawsuit. We will meet with our legal counsel.”