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A jury Thursday afternoon ordered the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District to pay its former IT director Elaine Allyn over $1 million for retaliating against her for objecting to the deletion of district emails.
The jury returned the unanimous verdict after deliberating for four hours following a 15-day trial, said Allyn’s attorney, Michael Curran.
It was the second jury to hear wrongful termination claims made by Allyn, who was fired in May 2012 after a dispute over the deletion of district emails.
“I can’t express the emotion I am feeling,” Allyn said of the verdict. “This is not only for me but, for all the people at the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District, former and present employees that are going through the awful treatment that this administration is giving them. I really hope that it opens the eyes of the School Board to re-evaluate the current administration and their management philosophy.”
The district claimed the 18-year employee was fired for snooping and hacking colleagues’ emails and reduced the amount of time district servers retain emails on her own “to conceal her wrongful and deceitful acts.”
Allyn said she had previously reported sexual harassment by a superior and that she was ordered to dismantle the district’s email archive system, permanently erasing all deleted emails and reducing email retention from three years to one week, despite voicing objections and legal concerns.
A first trial that began in October 2013 ended in a mistrial after the district asked to extend it beyond the 10 days scheduled.
This time, the jury found Fallbrook retaliated “against Ms. Allyn for raising objections to reducing the retention time of the District’s email system,” and awarded nearly $1.05 million for lost income and $148,000 in damages, more than the amounts sought, court records show.
Allyn’s salary stood at $109,000 before she was let go.
The Fallbrook district has 60 days to appeal.
Curran said the district should consider changing its legal counsel before deciding whether to pursue the case any further.
Attorney Dan Shinoff represented the district through the county schools Risk Management Joint Powers Authority, an agency that provides legal representation to districts that pay for coverage in certain legal matters.
“The JPA spends millions of dollars of taxpayer monies each year with the Shinoff firm defending meritorious lawsuits that could and should be resolved,” Curran once wrote to the JPA in a request to remove Shinoff from the case.
Shinoff’s firm released a statement to Voice of San Diego on behalf of the district Thursday night:
“This lawsuit was filed with 12 claims against the District, 11 of which the District either prevailed or were dismissed. The District intends to seek all remedies available including costs and attorneys’ fees with respect to all of the 11 claims.
The Fallbrook Union Elementary School District is disappointed with the outcome of the trial with respect to the one claim that the jury was asked to decide.
While the jury’s decision is not the outcome expected, the District respects the jury’s time and commitment to the judicial process. At the same time, the District will continue to pursue the legal remedies that reach beyond today’s decision.”