By ANDREW J. CAMPA
Former special education director Sunita Batra filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Burbank Unified School District in 2017, the Burbank Leader has learned, alleging various forms of retaliation, discrimination and harassment.
The case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Sept. 18, 2017, and both sides appear to be finishing up the discovery stage, during which both parties gather evidence.
Burbank Unified Supt. Matt Hill and Tom Kissinger, assistant superintendent in charge of instructional services and Batra’s direct supervisor since 2015, are also named as defendants.
Batra is being represented by Shegerian & Associates, with senior attorney William Reed, who said he hopes for a jury trial by late April.
Batra is asking for general and special damages, interest on damages, attorneys’ fees, cost of the suit, declaratory relief and equitable relief, which can mean reinstatement, restoration of seniority and/or provisions for lost future earnings. No specific dollar amount is listed.
“Sunita is looking to be made whole again,” Reed said. “She’s looking to recover from severe damage.”
Batra — who was hired in 2012, is of Indian descent and over 40 years old — alleges in the lawsuit, “her work experience quickly began to decline when Hill became superintendent [in 2015], and Kissinger became her direct supervisor.”
She alleges Hill, who was under 40 years old at the time of his hiring, allegedly tried to purge the district office of those over 40 and, through Kissinger, also “intended to ‘whitewash’ the administration, and remove people of color, and/or of different nationalities.”
When contacted, Hill emailed, “I cannot comment on active litigation, but I look forward to having the opportunity to comment via the legal process.”
Since his hiring in April 2015, Hill is not believed to have fired anyone from his staff.
Batra also question’s Hill competency.
In August 2015, she stated she recommended against a 20% pay raise, which translated into roughly $20,000 per person a year, for special education teachers in the district’s adult transition program.
Batra characterized the increase as “a misuse of district resources,” because those instructors typically worked from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., while most other teachers worked until 3 p.m.
She alleges Hill agreed to give teachers the raise under the stipulation they work until 3 p.m.
According to Batra, however, Hill “failed to review the memorandum of understanding thoroughly as was his duty,” and the memorandum was signed with a raise, but no changes in hours.
Batra alleges Hill acknowledged the error, but their relationship quickly soured.
Batra claims her relationship with Kissinger went downhill in 2013 after she alleges Kissinger wanted her to “inappropriately interfere” in the hiring of a school psychologist in favor of a candidate he preferred.
Batra said she did not get involved in the situation, and a hiring panel went with another choice.
The lawsuit states that in early 2016 Batra spoke to an unnamed board member and complained that Hill and Kissinger were creating a hostile workplace.
She alleges the pair often circumvented her, such as in March 2016 when she alleges Kissinger drafted a contract, without speaking to Batra, that he and Hill signed with Burbank Family Services’ clinic for special-needs student services even though Batra said the organization had no previous experience handling such cases.
“We believe these aren’t just serious issues and how [Batra] was wronged, but compliance issues and how the district was not in compliance for its special-needs services,” Reed said.
Batra claims Kissinger wrote her up “for false and trivial reasons, [filed her file with many claims], made false accusations against her, put her on an unnecessary and inappropriate performance-improvement plan [and] supported other employees making frivolous claims against Batra.”
Kissinger said Friday afternoon he was also unable to comment on an active case but looked forward to defending himself in court.
In June 2016, Batra went on stress leave and did not return until September. She alleges Kissinger asked to be carbon-copied “on all her emails” and be invited to attend “all her meetings.”
Batra alleges she was informed in March, due to a request from Hill and Kissinger, that the board approved her demotion at the end of the 2016-17 school year from special education director to school psychologist.
Citing mental health reasons, Batra resigned the following month.
“She is currently unemployed and very traumatized,” Reed said. “She’s still working to heal.”
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