Two teachers who alleged wrongful termination successfully sued the William S. Hart Union High School District and won close to $200,000, court documents show.
A judge in August awarded Ed Colley $114,427.88 and Fredrick Malcomb $84,382 in back pay, plus sick leave, benefits, 7 percent interest on the back pay and attorney fees. Colley told the Gazette on Monday that the district has not paid and is appealing the case to the state appellate court. No hearing date has been set, he said.
“Obviously, I’m very confident I will continue to win,” Colley said. “I feel very bad for the taxpayers and the students of the district because of the school board’s decision to throw money away … it doesn’t do our kids any good whatsoever for the money they will pay my lawyer. My lawyer’s total bill is about half a million dollars.”
District spokesperson Dave Campbell said the state Education Code precludes comment in personnel matters.
According to court documents, Colley and Malcomb taught Air Force Junior ROTC at Valencia High when the Air Force revoked their certifications in 2015 over failing to file certain paperwork. The two sued in federal court and lost, but have petitioned the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; the matter is ongoing, Colley said.
While the federal suit progressed, the Hart district terminated the pair, effective June 30, 2015, claiming they were no longer qualified to teach. But Colley said that was only true related to JROTC and that he was credentialed to teach math, physics or serve as an assistant principal. Malcomb, court documents say, could have been assigned a counseling position.
The court agreed, saying, “When a local board of education wrongfully dismisses a teacher, the teacher is entitled to reinstatement, to full salary from the date of termination, including retirement benefits, and to interest from the dates upon which such salary payments were due.”
Colley was reinstated Nov. 4, 2016, effective Sept. 28, but only as a substitute teacher, a role he continues in to this day.
“The district doesn’t want me to teach math or physics,” Colley said. “They want me to be a substitute teacher.” He said substitute teachers are paid at a rate of $125 a day, but he’s making his full salary of about $500 a day.
Malcomb was reinstated the same day but by then had already taken a higher-paying counseling job at Palmdale Aerospace Academy (PAA).
Since both plaintiffs were entitled to back pay for the time between termination and reinstatement, court documents show the sides conducted several back-pay hearings in front of a hearing officer in the first half of 2017.
The district claimed the back pay must be denied by appropriate state and court decisions.
The court disagreed, calling the arguments “specious,” “untenable” and “unconvincing.”
“The judge said you don’t get to write your own laws,” Colley said. “The district’s legal theories are just wrong. They can’t win.”
Furthermore, a hearing Colley had in front of the state-mandated Commission on Professional Competence in 2018 found that the district lacked cause to terminate him. Malcomb never went before the CPC because he had already left the district for PAA. Hart’s attorneys also tried using that argument to deny him back pay; the court disagreed.
Court documents say Malcomb blamed his termination as reason for failing to find a full-time job during this time, although he substituted at PAA.
“Malcomb believes that the District’s decision to non-reelect him was a huge reason for his failure to find a job during this period,” the court documents say. “His job counselor at the College of the Canyons informed him that he would have a ‘hard time finding a job because of the (termination).” The documents say Malcomb had to disclose the termination on every application, thus damaging his chances.
After Colley was terminated, court documents say, he sought letters of recommendation from various Valencia administrators, only to have the principal declare none would come. He also got elected to the Castaic Lake Water Agency board, and he continues to serve on the new Santa Clarita Water Agency board.