A jury Thursday afternoon ordered the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District to pay its former IT director Elaine Allyn over $1 million for retaliating against her for objecting to the deletion of district emails.

The jury returned the unanimous verdict after deliberating for four hours following a 15-day trial, said Allyn’s attorney, Michael Curran.

It was the second jury to hear wrongful termination claims made by Allyn, who was fired in May 2012 after a dispute over the deletion of district emails.

“I can’t express the emotion I am feeling,” Allyn said of the verdict. “This is not only for me but, for all the people at the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, former and present employees that are going through the awful treatment that this administration is giving them. I really hope that it opens the eyes of the School Board to re-evaluate the current administration and their management philosophy.”

The district claimed the 18-year employee was fired for snooping and hacking colleagues’ emails and reduced the amount of time district servers retain emails on her own “to conceal her wrongful and deceitful acts.”

Allyn said she had previously reported sexual harassment by a superior and that she was ordered to dismantle the district’s email archive system, permanently erasing all deleted emails and reducing email retention from three years to one week, despite voicing objections and legal concerns.


We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

A first trial that began in October 2013 ended in a mistrial after the district asked to extend it beyond the 10 days scheduled.

This time, the jury found Fallbrook retaliated “against Ms. Allyn for raising objections to reducing the retention time of the District’s email system,” and awarded nearly $1.05 million for lost income and $148,000 in damages, more than the amounts sought, court records show.

Allyn’s salary stood at $109,000 before she was let go.

The Fallbrook district has 60 days to appeal.

Curran said the district should consider changing its legal counsel before deciding whether to pursue the case any further.

Attorney Dan Shinoff represented the district through the county schools Risk Management Joint Powers Authority, an agency that provides legal representation to districts that pay for coverage in certain legal matters.

“The JPA spends millions of dollars of taxpayer monies each year with the Shinoff firm defending meritorious lawsuits that could and should be resolved,” Curran once wrote to the JPA in a request to remove Shinoff from the case.

Shinoff’s firm released a statement to Voice of San Diego on behalf of the district Thursday night:

“This lawsuit was filed with 12 claims against the District, 11 of which the District either prevailed or were dismissed. The District intends to seek all remedies available including costs and attorneys’ fees with respect to all of the 11 claims.

The Fallbrook Union Elementary School District is disappointed with the outcome of the trial with respect to the one claim that the jury was asked to decide.

While the jury’s decision is not the outcome expected, the District respects the jury’s time and commitment to the judicial process.  At the same time, the District will continue to pursue the legal remedies that reach beyond today’s decision.”

 

    This article relates to: Education, School Finances

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

    6 comments
    ann myers
    ann myers subscriber

    The original lawsuit reads like an elementary schoolyard dispute. I would like to read the court transcripts that convinced a jury this was a credible lawsuit.

    DavidM
    DavidM subscriber

    @ann myers  A "schoolyard dispute" that involves a loss of livelihood over claims of illegal conduct is a credible lawsuit. 


    One would hope that among school administrators they understand that being a bully should be subjected to a zero tolerance standard!


    This was a North County jury (one of the most conservative jurisdictions in the country for civil lawsuits) and was heard by Judge Stern (a very conservative judge).  My first impression is that the District got every benefit of the doubt imaginable; if their was a unanimous verdict in four hours, the actual evidence must have been compelling.

    Christopher Garnier
    Christopher Garnier

    The Law Firm's hands are dirty...here is the thing, the Firm will make even more money because they will advise Fallbrook to appeal the decission. Even if Fallbrook loses in appeal, The attorneys win because they get to "line their pockets" off of the Tax Payer's money used/ear-marked for education not for litigation.

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    What were the other 11 claims that were dismissed or found in favor of the district? It would be nice to know to kind of wrap up this report.

    DavidM
    DavidM subscriber

    The article notes that the time to appeal is 30 days; in fact it is 60 days from the mailing of notice of entry of judgment.  Shinoff's firm will delay that until the very last minute.  (EDIT: the article has been correct to 60 days for appeal, but does not note that this clock doesn't start ticking until, at the earliest, a judgment is in the court file.)


    I heard several years ago that JPA is administered by trustees interviewed by Shinoff's firm before they are appointed. JPA then hires the firm every year for defense of claims against school districts and other public entities which should be resolved, but are fought vigorously for no apparent reason other than to generate income for the defense attorneys.  The firm will, of course, appeal, and delay for another two years while the firm makes money.  They serve neither the Joint Powers, nor their clients; attorneys who practice only for the big payday at public expense are scum.