A jury has awarded nearly $25 million to a Black former Bassett Unified School District teacher who alleged he was fired in 2019 in retaliation for having previously brought a discrimination suit and because he spoke out about sexual misconduct by a district custodian.
The Los Angeles Superior Court panel on Friday found that plaintiff Michael Ross was the victim of retaliation and a failure to prevent retaliation. Of his $24.8 million in damages, $22 million was allocated to compensate him for his past and future emotional distress.
The district maintained Ross was terminated for legitimate reasons. Lawyers for the BUSD stated in their court papers that on the last day of summer school in July 2017, Ross left early without permission and “without concern for the whereabouts of his students.”
“There is no greater responsibility of a teacher than to ensure the safety of his students,” the district’s lawyers argued in their court papers.
In his initial suit, Ross stated he was hired by the BUSD in 1994 and held teaching positions at various schools in the San Gabriel Valley, including Bassett High School and Torch Middle School.
Torch School students who called Ross the “N-word” and other racial epithets were routinely not disciplined despite the plaintiff’s complaints, the initial suit stated. He also was given a written reprimand for calling the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department instead of the district’s own security personnel to report one student’s threat of violence against him, according to the initial suit, which was filed in May 2016 and settled a year later.
In July 2017, BUSD custodian Michael Barry was arrested and charged with multiple acts of sexual misconduct involving several students at Torch School. One of the alleged victims was a female student who had told Ross the janitor had made her feel uncomfortable, according to the second suit. Ross reported what the girl had said to the Torch School assistant principal, according to the second suit filed in June 2019.
After Ross spoke with the Torch School principal about Barry in August 2017, the district allegedly retaliated by placing him on leave and then sending him a notice of charges and proposed recommendation of termination 15 months later when he was still not allowed to return, the second suit stated.
Ross appeared for a hearing with a legal representative and presented a written brief and oral argument which “squarely refuted and disproved several of BUSD’s meritless allegations,” but he was nonetheless fired in January 2019, according to the second suit.