Law & Courts

Calif. Ed. Dept. Faulted In Whistle-Blower Case

By Joetta L. Sack — February 19, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A California judge last week upheld a $4 million verdict against the state department of education, but dismissed $150,000 in punitive damages against former schools chief Delaine Eastin in a case alleging discrimination against a whistle-blower.

In December, a jury found that James Lindberg, a former consultant in the state agency’s adult education department, had been harassed and moved to another job within the agency for reporting irregularities and potential abuses in the state’s handling of federal and state funds.

Total fines assessed against the California Department of Education in Sacramento Superior Court now stand at just over $4 million, but the department will appeal the judgment, according to agency lawyer Joanne Lowe.

Gaspar Garcia II, the lawyer for Mr. Lindberg, said that his client had worked for 18 years in the adult education department, and during the course of his job found that some state contractors were abusing the system by inflating student enrollments, overstating their duties, and not providing sites to house the educational programs for which they were receiving funding.

But after he tried to bring the problems to the attention of higher-ranking state and federal officials, he was demoted to another department within the agency, Mr. Garcia said.

Mr. Lindberg was also denied access to internal files that would prove his case, professional development and training, and chances to interview for other jobs within the department, his lawyer said. The verdict includes awards for back pay and loss of pension funds, Mr. Garcia said.

Further, he said, Mr. Lindberg was humiliated and teased by colleagues because of his claims. Mr. Garcia said the subsequent stress exacerbated Mr. Lindberg’s existing health problems, which include congestive heart failure and diabetes. Mr. Lindberg, 63, has suffered two heart attacks since filing the lawsuit in 2001, Mr. Garcia said.

Malice Claim Fails

The jury found that Ms. Eastin, then the state superintendent of public instruction, had intentionally retaliated against Mr. Lindberg for reporting the offenses. Some witnesses in the December trial speculated that Ms. Eastin was under pressure from Latino members of the state legislature to provide funding for English-language and citizenship classes for adult immigrants.

But Judge Brian R. Van Camp, in the ruling last week, said that Mr. Lindberg’s claims could not meet the burden of proof for malice. Judge Van Camp wrote that Ms. Eastin’s “failures may have been unprofessional, ill-founded, unresponsive, or even rude, but the law imposes a high burden to find malice.”

Ms. Eastin left office last month after being ineligible to run for re- election to a third term because of term limits. She could not be reached last week for comment.

Ms. Lowe said Ms. Eastin should be completely exonerated because Mr. Lindberg’s claims were unfounded. For instance, she said, his change of job came during a reorganization of the adult education department, and his new job was not a demotion.

Ms. Lowe said the times he did find that contractors were falling short, the claims were investigated and action was taken.

Further, she said, Ms. Eastin did not know who Mr. Lindberg was, as the education department has thousands of employees. Ms. Lowe said that Mr. Lindberg had approached the schools chief only at inopportune times, such as during a holiday party and on a street corner.

“These were not arranged meetings; he never, ever detailed to her in any conversation what he had found, why it was fraudulent, or who he was,” Ms. Lowe maintained. “When he says, ‘You’re retaliating against me,’ what does that mean? There’s not a shred of evidence that that ever happened.”

Lawyers for the education department had asked Judge Van Camp to set aside the entire judgment, but he declined to do so.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Title IX Rule to Protect LGBTQ+ Students Temporarily Blocked in 4 States
A federal judge in Louisiana delivered the first legal blow to the Biden administration's interpretation of Title IX.
4 min read
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and healthcare stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. Republican states are filing a barrage of legal challenges against the Biden administration's newly expanded campus sexual assault rules, saying they overstep the president's authority and undermine the Title IX anti-discrimination law.
Demonstrators advocating for transgender rights and health care stand outside of the Ohio Statehouse on Jan. 24, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio. Republican states have filed a barrage of legal challenges against the Biden administration's new Title IX rule, and one of them has just resulted in a temporary order blocking the rule in four states.
Patrick Orsagos/AP
Law & Courts Judge Strikes Down Title IX Guidance on LGBTQ+ Students. Here's Why It Matters
In a June 11 ruling, Texas judge said the Education Department has no authority to expand protections under Title IX.
8 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at a news conference in Dallas on June 22, 2017. His office sued the Biden administration in an attempt to invalidate guidance it released in June 2021 stating it would interpret Title IX to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Tony Gutierrez/AP
Law & Courts Court Backs School That Barred Student's 'Two Genders' Shirt
The court said the shirt could be understood to demean transgender and gender-nonconforming students, and administrators could prohibit it.
5 min read
ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman, left, and Liam Morrison speak at a press conference following oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit on Feb. 8, 2024.
David Cortman, senior counsel and vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom, left, and middle school student Liam Morrison speak to reporters following oral arguments over Morrison's "There Are Only Two Genders" T-shirt before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston on Feb. 8, 2024.
Courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom
Law & Courts Federal Judge Overturns New Hampshire Law on Teaching 'Divisive Concepts'
The judge holds that the law is unconstitutionally vague because it does not make clear to educators what topics they may not teach.
4 min read
Students walk into the front doors at Hinsdale Middle High School, in Hinsdale, N.H., on the first day of school on Aug. 30, 2022.
Students walk into Hinsdale Middle High School, in Hinsdale, N.H., in August 2022. A federal judge has struck down a New Hampshire law that bars the teaching of "divisive concepts" to K-12 students.
Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP