JUST IN: New lawsuit charges Cortines with sexual misconduct
Craig Clough | February 25, 2015
Old accusations of sexual misconduct by LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines resurfaced today in a new lawsuit that includes explosive new assertions sure to cause anger, embarrassment and disruptions at district headquarters.
Scot Graham, who was hired by Cortines in 2000 to be the district’s Director of Real Estate, renewed his charges that Cortines, 82, made unwanted sexual advances toward him and that the district retaliated against him for bringing the matter before district lawyers. Graham, who is 58, made similar accusations in two previous lawsuits, based on incidents during Cortines’ first two stints as superintendent.
But this latest complaint filed in a downtown California Superior Court goes well beyond the previous lawsuits, making liberal use of graphic language in characterizing Cortines as a sexual predator who openly made derogatory and sexually-tinged comments about a number of past and present district leaders, including the district’s current chief lawyer, David Holmquist. Graham also alleges that Cortines described board member Monica Garcia as a “fat slovenly lesbian” and that senior district officials routinely had “sexual side arrangements.”
The complaint also raises a new allegation that the district failed to investigate Graham’s claims before rehiring Cortines last year to run the district for a third time as superintendent. That failure, Graham charged, has created a work atmosphere in which Graham says he feels “ongoing fear of Cortines” who “would use his power to terminate Graham for refusing Cortines’ sexual advances.”
“These matters have already been adjudicated by the court in favor of the school district and Mr. Cortines in two separate lawsuits,” Holmquist said in a statement, speaking for Cortines and the district. “This is simply a frivolous refiling of the same allegations. The details included in this complaint are intended to do nothing more than generate sensational headlines, and needlessly subject current and former leaders at the district to baseless personal attacks. The District will vigorously defend against these claims as it has done with the last two lawsuits alleging the same causes of action.
“Ensuring a hostile free work and learning environment districtwide is very important,” he added. ” We take these types of allegations seriously, and we act in accordance with the law. Courts have already determined that these claims are not actionable.”
Garcia did not respond to an email and voice message, seeking comment.
Graham’s first two lawsuits did not proceed into court for various reasons. Cortines has denied any wrongdoing while admitting only that he had a sexual encounter with Graham.
Graham’s accusations only came to light publicly in 2012, a year after Cortines had retired and before he returned to the superintendent’s office last year. The new lawsuit names the district and Cortines as defendants.
“The issue is very simple, as Mr. Graham’s claims of sexual harassment have never been adjudicated, and the district has yet to conduct an independent, objective investigation of Mr. Graham’s claims,” Graham’s lawyer, Rob Hennig, told LA School Report. “He’s saying not just was he sexually harrassed, but he was sexually assaulted.”
Hennig also said the new lawsuit focuses on the physical and emotional distress Graham has suffered since Cortines was rehired last year. Herndon Graddick, a former president of GLAAD who is acting as a spokesperson for Graham, explained Graham’s alleged symptoms in an email. GLAAD is on organization dedicated to fighting for equal treatment for gays and lesbians.
“Scot has been diagnosed with a stress related seizure disorder since Cortines’ rehire, which I have personally witnessed and the doctors say has been triggered by the events at work. Because of that he has been out recently on sick leave,” Graddick said.
Overall, the new lawsuit (Warning: some of the details are sexually graphic) paints a picture of Cortines as an executive who believed he wielded ultimate power in the district — including over Graham and the school board — creating what Graham asserts remains an intimidating and hostile workplace made all the more uncomfortable by Cortines’ advances toward him.
The complaint includes a number of explicit comments Cortines is alleged to have made that were not included in the previous actions, among them the characterizations of Garcia, who was board president from 2007 through 2013; descriptions of district officials whom Cortines regarded as “hot”; and Cortines’ contention that, according to Graham, the entire board was comprised of “modestly competent, part-time special interest monitors.”
The lawsuit also alleges that Cortines expressed his sexual attraction to a number of district employees, including Holmquist, and that Cortines said he would set meetings with those people simply “because he thought they were hot.”
The new lawsuit also alleges that the district publicly outed Graham as a homosexual without his consent, although it is only listed in the facts of the case, not as a “cause of action.” The previously withdrawn lawsuit did list Graham’s alleged outing as a cause of action for invasion of privacy.
Whether true or not, the new lawsuit represents the first time Garcia has been publicly labeled a lesbian. Graddick dismissed any apparent irony of Graham complaining about being outed while using the remarks of a third person to out another individual.
“I have no idea whether Monica Garcia is a lesbian. Strong women are called that all the time in an attempt to disparage them,” Graddick said. “Further, I do not accept that anything that may be in this lawsuit is the responsibility of anyone but Cortines and the LAUSD for not doing the right thing in the first place.”
As he did in the earlier lawsuits, Graham claims Cortines made a number of unwanted sexual comments and advances toward him in 2000 and in 2010, both at district headquarters and at a secluded ranch house Cortines owns outside of LA County.
Despite the unwanted advances in 2000, Graham said in the lawsuit he maintained a personal and professional relationship with Cortines when Cortines returned to the district in 2009 because he feared losing his job if he did not. Those fears, he said, accounted for his willingness to stay a weekend at Cortines’ ranch house despite his misgivings.
The lawsuit claims Graham brought his accusations against Cortines to Holmquist, who encouraged him not to pursue them. Graham also contends that he reported his claims to two of his supervisors and another district lawyer, but the district never investigated them.
In May 2012, after Cortines had retired, LA Unified officials held a press conference announcing that an agreement had been reached between Graham and the district that settled his claims. Graham had yet to bring a lawsuit, but he had also not yet signed the agreement, which was to give him $200,000 and health benefits with the understanding that he would resign from his job.
Graham never signed the agreement, and his accusations were not publicly known until the press conference. It was at this press conference Graham claims he was outed by district officials.
At the press conference, a statement signed by Cortines was released that denied any wrongdoing but acknowledged a single incident with Graham that Cortines described as “consensual spontaneous adult behavior.”
Graham also accuses the district of retaliating against him for bringing his claims in the form of reducing his employment responsibilities. It also says Graham has had to endure encountering Cortines at district headquarters, where they both work a floor apart and that Cortines’s return has caused him anxiety.
The previous lawsuit that was withdrawn asked for $10 million in damages; the new lawsuit does not specify an amount.