LANCASTER – A judge has pared a lawsuit filed by the former general counsel for the Antelope Valley Union High School District, who sued the district and three individuals contending she was fired in 2019 for blowing the whistle on allegedly illegal contracts that would have provided financial windfalls to some trustees.
Bridget Cook, who is Black, also alleges she was the victim of race and gender discrimination. She filed her case last Aug. 26 in Los Angeles Superior Court against the district and several school officials, including Board of Education members Victoria M. Ruffin and Amanda L. Parrell and former trustee Robert “Bob” Davis. Cook alleges discrimination, retaliation, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Lawyers for Davis, Parrell and Ruffin moved to dismiss most of the allegations against their clients as well as the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages.
On Tuesday, Judge David Sotelo tossed one of Cook’s retaliation claims and her whistleblower protection allegation pertaining to Davis, Parrrell and Ruffin, but declined to dismiss another retaliation claim, her allegation of intentional infliction of emotional distress or her claim for punitive damages against the trio. Cook’s claims against the district were not part of the motion heard by the judge.
Cook says she began working for the district as a substitute teacher in 1994, became a full-time teacher four years later and was named general counsel in 1998, holding the position until her firing.
Cook regularly attended AVUHSD board meetings and became a member of the superintendent’s cabinet. Her responsibilities included providing legal advice to district leadership, administrators, board members and other staff, according to her suit.
The suit alleges that beginning in December 2018, AVUHSD’s board members engaged in improper governmental activities, including awarding and attempting to award lucrative contracts to friends and associates. Cook raised concerns about alleged waste, improper use of government funds and unlawful conduct to the board and to her supervisor, but the board majority disregarded her disclosures and the AVUHSD unlawfully retaliated against her by firing her without cause, the suit states. When Cook was fired in June 2019 she was the highest paid Black employee and the highest paid woman, yet received no notice that the board was considering taking away her job, the suit states.
“Cook was not permitted to address the board before the board took action to terminate her, nor was she permitted to respond to any allegations regarding her job performance,” the suit says. “At almost midnight, with no warning and after nearly 25 years of exemplary service to AVUHSD, Cook was told that she was being placed on immediate administrative leave and would be escorted from the premises by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy.”
In addition to its alleged retaliation against Cook, the plaintiff maintains the district lawfully discriminated against her on the basis of her race and gender.
“AVUHSD’s treatment of Cook is part of a pattern and practice in which white men receive reasonable notice if they are being considered for termination, and are given the opportunity to remain employed, maintain their salaries, and ultimately receive promotions,” according to the complaint. “In contrast, women and African-Americans in management positions are demoted, lose pay or are fired.”