Former superintendent files suit against Del Mar school district


By Karen Billing

Staff Writer

Ousted Del Mar Union School District Superintendent Sharon McClain has filed suit against the district.

McClain is suing the district for breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, failure to pay wages and violation of McClain’s due process rights. The suit asks for the district to pay a year’s salary of $192,684 as it alleges McClain was fired with “no contractually-justified” cause. The year salary reflects $16,057 a month, including disputed changes made to McClain’s contract moving retirement monies to salary.

The district fired McClain on March 31 with cause but she was never told what the cause was. During the public meeeting the board said it was a personnel matter that could not be discussed in open session.

In June, McClain’s attorney Dale Gronemeier sent a letter to the district’s lawyer demanding a statement of cause for her termination. No response was given. (If she had been fired without cause the school district would have had to pay McClain a year’s salary.)

“They had the right to terminate her without cause, which if they wanted to get rid of her they should have done,” Gronemeier said.

While the lawsuit has been filed, it has not been formally served to the district yet. Gronemeier said he has 60 days to serve and he plans to wait 30 days to make it official, waiting for a change in the school board to occur.

“Once the two incumbents are gone, the members of the new board will be less personally invested and maybe we can resolve the case without costing a lot of attorney fees on both sides,” Gronemeier said.

He said he feels McClain has a strong case but, as he tells all his clients, litigation is an expensive, time-consuming process and the goal is for the case to be resolved in a business-like fashion.

The lawsuit details a turbulent term for McClain in Del Mar. The suit alleges the board interfered with McClain’s “areas of responsibilities by trying to micromanage” and, in her firing, she was falsely maligned.

The suit also alleges the board approved a change in McClain’s contract, agreeing to pay an increase of $1,223.33 a month, which McClain never received. The board said that the California State Teachers Retirement System deemed the amendment to the contract illegal, which was why it was never paid on.

The suit states that the district is now obligated to pay McClain an additional $22,270 over her 19 months of employment, reflecting the increase and a penalty of 30 working days.

Dan Shinoff, the district’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.