Del Mar: McClain case against school district moves forward

By Marsha Sutton

Contributor

A San Diego Superior Court ruling on Friday granted a motion to strike attorneys’ fees from the wrongful termination lawsuit filed against the Del Mar Union School District by former superintendent Sharon McClain, who was hired by the DMUSD in September 2008 and released March 31, 2010.

“This was a motion to strike attorneys’ fees that the district filed, and it was granted,” said Ryan Church, an attorney with the law firm of Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, which represents the school district on this case.

“She wanted attorneys’ fees under government code section 800, so the court has now struck those,” Church said, “so she would not be entitled to attorneys’ fees under that government code. It’s not a major motion. It just takes out a portion of a complaint.”

Church said the motion was unopposed by McClain and her attorney.

McClain’s attorney, Los Angeles-based Dale Gronemeier, said he chose not to challenge the motion “because they’re correct.” He said he expected this motion and said McClain is now “pretty well barred from getting attorneys’ fees.”

But Gronemeier said McClain gains something by not challenging the motion. “In order to take this position, they have to give up another position,” he said.

The original complaint, filed Sept. 17, 2010, named the DMUSD and four individuals as defendants: attorney Dan Shinoff, former DMUSD trustees Annette Easton and Katherine White, and current trustee Doug Perkins.

The First Amended Complaint, filed Oct. 8, 2010, removed the four individuals’ names, leaving the DMUSD as the sole defendant.

Gronemeier said the only liability the individuals would have would be under federal law under the reconstruction Civil Rights Act. “We made a decision that the burden of trying to prove that was too much,” he said.

However, all five names continue to appear on the case, Church said, because the original captions remain even after amended complaints are filed. “It will always say all of those people, regardless of whether they’ve been dismissed or not,” he said. “The court never wants you to change a caption.”

To date there have been no further amendments to the original complaint. Church said the operative complaint is the First Amended Complaint.

The complaint states that around August 2009, a majority of board members “began to disregard that contractual division of labor and interfere with Dr. McClain’s areas of responsibilities by trying to micro-manage DMUSD.”

A portion of the complaint reads: “Because Dr. McClain did not roll over and accept the foregoing usurpation of her responsibilities by the board majority, the board majority, in or about August 2009, began implementing a scheme or plan to try to pressure Dr. McClain to voluntarily resign.”

McClain also charged that the board failed to specify in writing or orally the basis for her termination.

She claimed the DMUSD breached her employment agreement on a number of grounds, calling the conduct of the DMUSD “arbitrary and capricious.”

McClain is asking for monetary compensation she said was owed and never paid during her employment with the district, and for future wages after termination “through trial or according to proof at trial.” She is also asking for 30 percent of the aforementioned compensation for lost benefits, compensation for future losses in retirement income, and “for such other relief as the court deems just and proper.”

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