By Eduardo Rueda
The San Ysidro School District is in settlement negotiations with a female employee that made sexual harassment allegations against former Superintendent Julio Fonseca.
Settlement talks are ongoing with Alexis Rodriguez, an employee that was involved in a personal relationship with Fonseca when they both worked at the District.
Fonseca resigned abruptly in October 2017 after Rodriguez’s allegations came to light. Although Board members were aware of the allegations, they voted unanimously to grant Fonseca a nearly $400,000 severance package when he resigned.
Fonseca had pushed to hire Rodriguez in November 2015, and the Board ratified her employment at its December 10, 2015 meeting.
The position Rodriguez was hired for did not exist at the start of the 2015-2016 school year, but was created when Fonseca wanted to hire her. After conducting interviews, only Rodriguez’s name was forwarded to the Board for consideration. At the time of her hiring, Fonseca did not inform the Board that he was already seeing Rodriguez.
Board members became aware of the intraoffice relationship as early as January 2016, but no action was taken to protect against potential harassment or a hostile work environment. Fonseca oversaw all of the District’s employees.
After her hiring, another employee, Enrique Gonzalez, raised concerns about the inappropriate relationship to District officials. Gonzalez and others had seen Fonseca and Rodriguez together before she was hired.
Gonzalez told District officials that Fonseca had confided in him that Rodriguez was going to be hired at the District even before the Board ratified her employment.
Within a few weeks, Gonzalez was terminated. The District later negotiated a settlement agreement with Gonzalez for one year’s salary and benefits. Gonzalez now serves as COO of La Prensa San Diego, but did not provide any information for this article.
While Fonseca was still Superintendent, he sent harassing messages to Rodriguez. She showed those messages to Board President Rosaleah Pallasigue before the Board voted to approve Fonseca’s severance pay.
Board President Pallasigue did not reply to requests to comment for this article.
According to then-Interim Superintendent Arturo Sanchez-Macias, on the day Fonseca resigned, School Board Member Antonio Martinez directed Macias and the District’s lawyer to prepare a separation agreement for Fonseca before the Board meeting.
Macias claims that, during a closed door meeting of the Board on the night of October 7, 2017, Fonseca was informed of the harassment claims and he then decided to resign.
Macias claims a separation agreement had already been prepared and they only negotiated the final payout amount during the meeting.
At the end of that meeting, Board President Pallasigue announced publicly that Fonseca had resigned.
“The Board, by a vote of 5 to 0, accepted the resignation of the Superintendent effective immediately, in exchange for 18 months of compensation and release of all claims,” Pallasigue said during the meeting. “Dr. Fonseca’s departure is based on a personal situation,” Pallasigue added.
Rodriguez continued her employment at the District after Fonseca resigned. Since he left, Rodriguez has maintained that Fonseca harassed her after she ended their relationship.
She recently offered the District a settlement agreement seeking a onetime payment. The District has been engaged in talks, but no agreement has been reached. Any such settlement would have to ratified by the Board at a public meeting.
After Fonseca’s resignation, Board Member Rodolfo Linares held a press conference and claimed that both Fonseca and then-Assistant Superintendent Arturo Sanchez-Macias had improperly cashed out their term life insurance benefits, and both had taken payments for unearned vacation days.
Days later, at the November, 4, 2017 Board meeting, Macias resigned without any severance package.
In March 2018, a local taxpayer watchdog group sued Fonseca and the District to reclaim the money paid to Fonseca, claiming his contract only required a severance package if Fonseca was terminated without cause, but not if he resigned.
The lawsuit by San Diegans for Open Government also claims that state law only allows severance payments of up to 12 months of pay, not 18 months as the District paid Fonseca. That lawsuit is still pending.
So far, the District has denied any wrongdoing and continues to fight the lawsuit. Fonseca is represented by separate lawyers, but the costs are being paid by the District’s insurance coverage because the claims stem from acts that happened while he was still employed by the District.
Recently, Fonseca filed his own lawsuit for defamation against Board Member Rodolfo Linares, claiming Mr. Linares’ public statements about Fonseca’s actions in taking the insurance payout and unearned vacations days were false and damaging. Depositions are ongoing in that lawsuit. It is not clear who is paying the legal fees for that lawsuit.
A state audit completed in June of this year concluded that both Fonseca and Macias had improperly received cash out payments for their life insurance benefits contrary to the wording of their employement contracts, and had taken unearned vacation time.
“Based on the findings in this report, there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that fraud, misappropriation of funds, and other illegal fiscal activities may have occurred,” the audit report states.
The audit confirmed that Fonseca received $107,000 for the insurance payout, and $55,826.72 in unearned vacation days. The audit also found that Sanchez-Macias received $100,000 in exchange for his life insurance, and an overpayment
of $47,380.64 for unearned vacation days.
The state audit outlined that the administrators used the Board’s lack of financial experience and oversight for their own advantages.
“Executive staff used the board’s lack of fiscal knowledge… so they could use the district’s resources for their personal benefit,” the audit report concluded.
Last month, the District dismissed a lawsuit against former Superintendent Manuel Paul, after fighting for three years to recover a severance package it paid him in 2013.
The District’s board voted to accept Paul’s resignation as Superintendent in 2013 and approved a buyout that included 12 months’ salary, health benefits, and past overtime and vacation pay. In total, the District paid Paul over $211,000.
At the time of the buyout, Paul’s employment contract only required a payout of 12 months if the District elected to cancel his contract for no reason, meaning an early termination. The contract did not require a payout if Paul resigned or retired, as he did.
The District spent over $480,000 in its attempt to recover the $211,000 it paid Paul. No reason was given for last month’s decision to abruptly drop the case. Paul was not required to repay the District any of the severance or legal fees.