Opening arguments were heard Monday, Oct. 7, at Vista Superior Court, in the civil court case of Elaine Allyn vs. Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD). The suit, which claims Allyn, the district’s former information technology director, was wrongfully terminated by administrators in an act of retaliation, requests that $972,000 in lost past and future wages, benefits, punitive damages, and attorneys fees be paid to the plaintiff. The suit also alleges the district violated public policy by misusing public funds.
Judge Jacqueline Stern and a 12-person jury heard opening arguments from Allyn’s attorney, Michael Curran, of Curran & Curran Law, that detailed a time frame from the summer of 2011 to May 2012.
“This case is really about an abuse of power, a breach of public trust, and a cover up that included retaliation by her bosses,” said Curran. The primary individuals under fire by the plaintiff are FUESD superintendent Candace Singh and associate superintendent Raymond Proctor.
Curran said the evidence he will present will demonstrate to the jury that Allyn, an 18-year employee of the district who has received several awards of distinction both in the community and in her position, fell out of good grace when she questioned Proctor about an order he gave her to delete electronic files which were protected under existing policy as well as state and federal law.
“Proctor told her to ‘wipe the archives clean;’ when she said she couldn’t do it within the law, [Allyn] fell out of the circle of trust and [Proctor] retaliated,” said Curran. “We will show how Proctor had been peppering budgets, manipulating monies. As a result, they spent $100,000 of public money to create a cover-up.” From that point on, the retaliation continued, Curran alleged.
Curran said Allyn was also asked by Singh to “hide” $42,000 of improvements made to the then-new superintendent’s office in the information technology (IT) budget because she “didn’t want it to flag the board [of trustees].”
The plaintiff’s case, as outlined, also alleges that district officials “hacked in” to files and emails to create a scenario for the dismissal of Allyn from her position. An earlier complaint by Allyn also alleged sexual harassment by Proctor. Curran said evidence will also show the investigation into that claim was purposelessly assigned to a subordinate of Proctor’s in order to control the outcome.
“We know they secretly went in and fussed with her files,” said Curran. “Elaine noticed what had been changed and experts said her files had been hacked.”
On Feb. 14, 2012, Curran said Proctor put Allyn on leave and walked her out of her office.
“The evidence will show that everything in this investigation was highly unusual, and that misrepresentations to the FUESD board [of trustees] led to [Allyn’s] termination,” said Curran.
“The evidence we will present will fully support our case and the jury will notice that there are significant emails missing from the defense’s case,” he added.
Gil Abed, a partner in Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff, & Holtz, said the evidence he will present in defense of FUESD will show a different set of circumstances.
“We will show that when Ms. Allyn was put on administrative leave for misconduct, there was nothing on record that she had complained about anything before that,” said Abed, who also provided to the jury character background on the district officials under fire.
Abed also explained how decisions regarding the hiring and firing of employees are ultimately determined by the five-person board of trustees. “They are the ones that run the district,” he said.
In outlining what his case will contain, Abed said he will provide witnesses who will state improvements (upgrades) were needed in the information technology department.
“Ms. Singh tasked Elaine Allyn to have the IT department audited to see how to accomplish these improvements and Allyn dropped the ball,” claimed Abed. “The district feels that over the last three years they lost opportunities in subsidies they claim she was responsible for.”
Abed said Singh discovered someone was reading her emails during the time frame in question and questioned Allyn about it.
“Ms. Singh said when she told Ms. Allyn about it, she had no reaction; that was odd in Singh’s mind,” said Abed, who also alluded that Allyn knew information contained within them without an email being directed to her on the topic. “Or was that just a coincidence?” he commented.
Abed also said there was no existing policy on how long (general) email had to be retained by the district and that Allyn “took matters into her own hands on retention time frames.”
Essentially, Abed said, Singh saw “a breach of security; a breach of trust,” which led to recommending that Allyn be dismissed from the position.
Contrary to that, Curran said “What really happened is she took issue with her two bosses for manipulating and misusing public funds. The charges they are making against her are a ruse, a cover-up.”
Allyn’s base salary at the time of her termination was $103,397. The person hired to replace Allyn, under a revised job description, was hired at a higher salary.
The trial has been estimated to run 10 days.