In the latest twist in the power struggle at the San Diego Education Association, the union’s former executive director, Craig Leedham, is suing his former employers for wrongful dismissal and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Leedham, along with former SDEA President Camille Zombro, is widely credited with pushing the teachers union towards a more hard-line, isolationist philosophy. Both Leedham and Zombro were recently removed from power, revealing a rift over the future direction of the union in the midst of a financial crisis at the San Diego Unified School District.

Leedham was abruptly placed on administrative leave in March and Zombro was voted out of office two weeks later.

He claims in his lawsuit that his employment was suddenly suspended on March 5, when union President Bill Freeman claimed Leedham had “physically threatened staff members,” the lawsuit states.

Leedham’s attorney, Josh Gruenberg, said the union’s actions directly violate Leedham’s employment contract.

Gruenberg said Leedham was employed to be a tough advocate for the members of his union. That involved an aggressive style, and doubtless involved Leedham cussing and fiercely making his point known, he said.

“I don’t have to show that what the union did was illegal. Instead, they have to prove he was dismissed for just cause under a very, very high standard,” Gruenberg said. “Shouting and cussing is not going to meet that standard.”

“The office had a longstanding common practice of using profanity long before he got there,” he added.

Leedham’s lawsuit states that he received an excellent evaluation in 2011, and had never been written up for poor performance.

It says he has suffered significantly since losing his job. He continues to suffer emotional distress, humiliation, loss of reputation and mental and physical pain and anguish, the lawsuit states.

Gruenberg said that’s taken a toll on his client. Leedham has so far had no luck getting employment elsewhere, Gruenberg said. Guenberg also said the union’s attorneys have stalled his attempts to settle the matter out of court.

Last week, Zombro issued an open letter criticizing Freeman’s leadership and outlining a schism within the union. Zombro claimed Freeman had purged her and Leedham from the union.

You can catch up with our coverage of the union with this reader’s guide.

A call to Freeman for comment was not returned Monday.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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    Written by Will Carless

    Will Carless is the former head of investigations at Voice of San Diego. He currently lives in Montevideo, Uruguay, where he is a freelance foreign correspondent and occasional contributor to VOSD. You can reach him at will.carless.work@gmail.com.

    16 comments
    Matt Kocik
    Matt Kocik subscriber

    i sense some stokholm syndrome here by people who may not be close to what really happened to this individual. truly sad that people pick sides before the whole story is released to the public, or at least to SDEA union members. i, for one, will await for more information before i pass judgement on this individual, or on the democratically elected decision makers who made this presumably difficult choice to terminate an employee of theirs.

    mattK
    mattK

    i sense some stokholm syndrome here by people who may not be close to what really happened to this individual. truly sad that people pick sides before the whole story is released to the public, or at least to SDEA union members. i, for one, will await for more information before i pass judgement on this individual, or on the democratically elected decision makers who made this presumably difficult choice to terminate an employee of theirs.

    Richard Bagnell
    Richard Bagnell subscriber

    Bullying, yelling, 5% of members voting, lawsuits.....sounds like a great screen play. May I suggest,' On the Waterfront II ' as the working title.

    RB
    RB

    Bullying, yelling, 5% of members voting, lawsuits.....sounds like a great screen play. May I suggest,' On the Waterfront II ' as the working title.

    John de Beck
    John de Beck subscriber

    Despite the fact that Leedham (and fellow traveler Zombro) was toxic, the UNION should know about DUE PROCESS! A contract is a contract ...just ask the union if they REALLY mean it when they keep repeating THAT! Fair employment is something that unions are supposed to understand. When I was an officer at SDTA, I NEGOTIATED a fair termination of our executive director who had served for years and whO had lost favor ...partially because he touted the LOTTERY as a solution for education's financial troubles. We (THE UNION) didn't agree and were ahead of our time. But WE BELIEVED in due process for our emnployees... apparently the current leaders of SDEA don't! FOOD FOR THE GOOSE....comes to mind!

    deBeck
    deBeck

    Despite the fact that Leedham (and fellow traveler Zombro) was toxic, the UNION should know about DUE PROCESS! A contract is a contract ...just ask the union if they REALLY mean it when they keep repeating THAT! Fair employment is something that unions are supposed to understand. When I was an officer at SDTA, I NEGOTIATED a fair termination of our executive director who had served for years and whO had lost favor ...partially because he touted the LOTTERY as a solution for education's financial troubles. We (THE UNION) didn't agree and were ahead of our time. But WE BELIEVED in due process for our emnployees... apparently the current leaders of SDEA don't! FOOD FOR THE GOOSE....comes to mind!

    Mark Grindberg
    Mark Grindberg subscriber

    Hard to unify under such difficult circumstances.

    BGR
    BGR

    Hard to unify under such difficult circumstances.

    Andy Zafuto
    Andy Zafuto subscriber

    Well, it doesn't surprise me. Heck, the way union reps treated fellow union members last May 16, 2012, SDEA Rep. Council meeting. What with all their bullying, which included yelling in members faces, physically assaulting them, and threatening them, lawsuits might be coming SDEA's way. Well done, SDEA!! Well done!!---Rally May 22nd at 4:30 at the Ed Center!--

    andyboy
    andyboy

    Well, it doesn't surprise me. Heck, the way union reps treated fellow union members last May 16, 2012, SDEA Rep. Council meeting. What with all their bullying, which included yelling in members faces, physically assaulting them, and threatening them, lawsuits might be coming SDEA's way. Well done, SDEA!! Well done!!---Rally May 22nd at 4:30 at the Ed Center!--

    Emily D Neidhart
    Emily D Neidhart subscriber

    We need to re-hire Craig and save a few million dollars in the money that he is going to get after suing the union. This is a huge distraction. Craig sounds like a guy that we NEED in a time like this. I hope "Praying" isn't our union's action plan! ---Rally May 22nd at 4:30 at the Ed Center!--

    Kiz
    Kiz

    We need to re-hire Craig and save a few million dollars in the money that he is going to get after suing the union. This is a huge distraction. Craig sounds like a guy that we NEED in a time like this. I hope "Praying" isn't our union's action plan! ---Rally May 22nd at 4:30 at the Ed Center!--

    Stella Lopez
    Stella Lopez subscriber

    It was obvious this is all political because the direction of the union. Craig has always stood by educators and defended our strong union contract with conviction. Since Craig has left the message of SDEA has obviously changed.

    Stella
    Stella

    It was obvious this is all political because the direction of the union. Craig has always stood by educators and defended our strong union contract with conviction. Since Craig has left the message of SDEA has obviously changed.

    Angela Carter
    Angela Carter subscriber

    Great. Now the guy who was a notorious bulldog for us while he was sitting on our side of the table, is sitting on the other side of the table from us. This will go well.

    ACarter
    ACarter

    Great. Now the guy who was a notorious bulldog for us while he was sitting on our side of the table, is sitting on the other side of the table from us. This will go well.


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