By Steve Zeltzer
After more than 15 days of a trial and a wait of nearly 6 years after being fired, Commission on Teacher Credentialing CTC lawyer and whistleblower Kathleen Carroll won her state lawsuit against the agency for an illegal termination with malice.
She won $2,844,528. The jury also awarded punitive damages against Lee Pope, who was the Assistant General Counsel of the agency of $130,000 and former CTC Chief Counsel Mary Armstrong for $90,000, which brought the total damages for Carroll to $3,064,526
The jury at Sacramento Superior Court voted unanimously that she had been fired for going to Senator Darrell Steinberg and the California State Audit Board over corruption, cronyism and a massive backlog of “rap” sheets and credentials that were putting California public school children in potential danger.
Carroll had sued the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, CTC in November 2012 after she was fired for blowing the whistle on the massive backlog of credentials for teachers. This state agency is controlled by Governor Brown who appoints the commission members. It is also charged with credentialing the 300,000 teachers in California and investigating possible criminal violations of credentialed teachers, principals and supervisors.
The Backlog And Lies
While working at the commission in 2009, Carroll became aware of the massive backlog of credentials for thousands of teachers that were being held up. There were also serious charges of misconduct against teachers that were not being processed as a result of the backlog. According to her, there were boxes of cases that had been sent to the commission and were being ignored.
There was also an organized cover-up of the backlog by top officials. Mary Armstrong, the chief counsel of the CTC, on August 6, 2009 told the commission that there was no backlog when questioned at a Commission meeting. The agency later admitted that indeed there were over 12,600 cases that were backlogged serious charges against teachers and credentialed staff.
The failure to receive credentials in a timely matter also put thousands of teachers in economic jeopardy, since many were waiting for the documents to get their jobs at public schools throughout the state. Many of these teachers likely ended up teaching at charter schools where credentials were not required.
CTC Committee Member Kaufman Backed Up Carroll
A witness for Carroll at trial was her friend attorney Michael Kaufman, who was a Public Member on the Committee of Credentials that reported to the Commission. Kaufman also testified at trial that in November 2009, he listened at the CTC web site to an audio recording of Armstrong’s “little backlogs” and her August 2009 statement to Commission Young. Kaufman believed that Armstrong’s answer to Young to be false based on stale files he had seen as a Committee member, and based on anecdotal comments he had heard within CTC. Kaufman felt that the “little backlogs” response violated Armstrong’s duty of loyalty and truthfulness to her client, the Commission. In Jan. 2010, Kaufman telephoned Commissioner Young and told her why he felt Armstrong’s “little backlogs” statement was untrue, that he had heard of a backlog exceeding 10,000 unexamined documents, and that consequently public school students could be at risk. Kaufman advised Young that the State Auditors should be brought in to investigate. Commissioner Young said she would take the matter up with Commission Chair Ting Sun.
Carroll Goes To Senator Steinberg For State Audit
After raising the issues of backlog with management staff internally and getting no results, She contacted the office of State Senator Darrell Steinberg in Sacramento and convinced Steinberg and his staff that there were serious deficiencies, corruption and nepotism at the state agency, which required a state audit. Steinberg agreed and the legislature voted for an audit of the agency.
Ting Sun Helps CTC Managers Target Carroll
Carroll also discussed the issue with Michael Kaufman and he also supported going to the state for an audit.
The CTC management found out about the whistleblowing in 2010 through the help of Commission chair Ting Lan Sun. She had been told in confidence by Kaufman that Carroll was the staff member who was concerned about the backlog. He was promised by Ting Sun that he would only give her the name if she kept it confidential. But immediately after learning about Carroll’s whistleblowing, she went to the CTC managers to move on Carroll. Sun went to Mary Armstrong and Lee Pope who then went into overdrive to target Kathleen Carroll.
A Layoff Based On Fabrication To Get Rid Of Carroll Fails
One critical witness who came forward and testified for Carroll at the trial was former CTC HR assistant Katrina Hollingsworth. Krista Hill, the head of Human Relations HR at the agency, had sought to arrange for the layoff of Carroll with the ruse that there were economic problems at the agency that required the layoff of the least senior attorney. Armstrong and Pope had met with Hollingsworth to discuss how they could layoff Carroll for supposed economic reasons.
Hollingsworth however told Armstrong and Pope it would look odd to layoff one person, and would require a lengthy economic analysis prior to any layoff.
CTC HR director Krista Hill who was involved in this conspiracy to fire Carroll was allowed to stay at the agency and also later transferred to another agency in the state government despite her role in the frame-up.
Armstrong and Pope also later targeted and went after another worker Diana Mansker who had worked with Carroll on cases at the agency. Mansker who is also an SEIU 1000 member felt that there was a reign of workplace bullying, intimidation at the CTC and terror she faced daily to drive her out of the agency. She believed that she was being “tortured” at the agency when managers told her she could not talk to anyone about her work. This prevented her from doing her job and she was forced to take an early retirement because of the workplace bullying.
In the court, Ani Kindall, who is presently the Senior Staff Counsel at the Division of Professional Practices, even defended the firing, and said that they did not have proper personnel rules and said that Carroll “deserved to be fired”. She also told the jury that “there are no fucking policy and she (Diana) deserved to be sworn at.”
After Lee Pope and Mary Armstrong found out that Carroll was the whistleblower, the Executive Director of the agency Dale Janssen in an effort to do damage control and stall the State Bureau Of Audits hired a so called "independent" investigator on March 24, 2010 to make a report on the backlog. The outside consultant Elisabeth Ison was supposed to make an investigation of the backlog. Although she was a lawyer, she was not licensed as an investigator, which is required under the law.
Ison began the investigation, but instead of focusing on the backlog, her investigation focused on the whistleblower who had exposed the backlog.
Star Witness And “The Stalker”
One of the star witnesses for the agency presented by State lawyers handling the case was former CTC vice chair Barbara Kilponen who was also the chair of the Fullerton Joint Union High School District. In 2010 Ison had interviewed Committee member Barbara Kilponen, from Fullerton. CTC clearly intended Kilponen to be a star witness against Carroll, but Kilponen failed to deliver, and her testimony actually exposed the efforts to frame Carroll.
At the trial, Kilponen testified that a few minutes into the interview, investigator Ison quickly turned the interview away from CTC. Ison suddenly told Kilponen, “now tell me about the stalker”.
At trial under cross-examination, Kilponen conceded that Carroll had never, in 2007 or any other time, made any sort of sexual proposition to her, that Carroll had never touched her, never attempted to kiss her, never discussed having a romantic or a sexual relationship with her. Kilponen conceded at trial there had been absolutely no intimate initiatives by Carroll and that she never told Carroll not to contact her.
Kilponen also testified that Pope and Armstrong pressured her for information they needed about the alleged 2007 sexual harassment incident. Kilponen said Pope wanted the statement to portray Carroll as a stalker desirous of an inappropriate social relationship with Kilponen. At the trial, Kilponen said she cooperated with Pope in preparing the harassment statement but did not know Carroll was being setup for termination based on the statement. However, under cross-examination, Carroll’s attorney pointed out that Kilponen had previously admitted under oath at Carroll’s State Personnel Board SPB hearing that she knew Pope and Armstrong intended to terminate Carroll. Kilponen’s testimony at trial was that of a troubled person who was manipulated by Pope and Armstrong to attack Carroll, a woman young enough to be Kilponen’s daughter.
Kilponen also testified that Pope and Armstrong had told her that they needed information quickly from her about this supposed sexual harassment incident that had allegedly taken place in 2007. Kilponen testified that Pope was pushing her to put out a statement, which she drafted and he was working on, that portrayed Carroll as a “stalker” and that Carroll was in an inappropriate social relationship with Kilponen.
The Firing Of Carroll And Kaufman
The top officials of the CTC with the support of the chair Ting Sun put Carroll on administrative leave on September 27, 2010 and fired Carroll on November 29, 2010 even before the audit had been publicly released at a state legislative hearing.
Lee Pope who was Carroll’s direct supervisor also refused to allow her to have a representative from her union, CASE, at the September 27, 2010 discipline meeting where he violated her Weingarten rights, and then had her escorted out of the CTC building by HR director Krista Hill.
At the trial, Pope testified that he did not dislike Carroll personally and “didn’t get into personal attacks”. He also claimed that he was not aware that Carroll was behind the audit.
Although he said he was embarrassed by the state audit, he claimed it did not bring the end of his career and that “When you work for the government, things happen”.
In court testimony, Carroll’s supervisors also admitted that she (Carroll) had never been counseled, reprimanded or ever written up for any misconduct or violations until she went to the state auditor.
Ten days after Carroll was fired, in an action stated to be without precedent, CTC also fired Kaufman from the Committee, for his speaking up and “acting like an attorney.”
Carroll’s Healthcare Cut Off By CTC And Brown
After her COBRA benefits expired, for a time, Carroll had no healthcare. This was life threatening as Carroll must take immunosuppressant medications daily to prevent her body from rejecting her heart. When Carroll eventually went on Medical, she was initially denied access to the specific immune-suppressant medications she needed to survive, a condition known to CTC and to the State.
Lee Pope and the CTC were also aware of her serious health issues while they continued to harass and bully her at the agency.
Release Of State Audit
The state audit was eventually released at a public hearing in May 2011 and Carroll testified about not only the backlog but also the extensive corruption, cronyism, nepotism and lack of oversight.
At the hearing about the audit, Senator Steinberg expressed concern about the Legislative Audit Committee JLAC report about the abysmal conditions at CTC and publicly praised Carroll for coming forward, even at the cost of her job.
(see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01340zecyA0). Carroll also testified at JLAC (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ux7F71oUo0 ).
JLAC Chair Ricardo Lara also wrote Gov. Brown concerning the Audit results: backlogged cases at CTC included misconduct ranging from distribution of pornography to students, to kidnap, to rape. Lara pointed out that BSA found that 43% of surveyed CTC employees expressed fear of retaliation, and 40% believed that familiar relationships threaten hiring practices and procedures. Lara’s letter further stated, “Over the years, the Commission’s management has done nothing to address the backlog and has even lied about its existence.”
Lara asked for the dismissal of Sun, Janssen, and Armstrong. These individuals, as well as Pope, soon left CTC.
Part of the top-level corruption at the agency included the very people who were going after Carroll. Lee Pope had arranged to give his son and daughter jobs on the commission and many friends and cronies of Armstrong had also been placed as employees of the commission.
Part of Carroll’s charges, which were confirmed by the SBA included a complete lack of proper personnel procedures with rampant cronyism, workplace bullying and intimidation at the agency.
Obstruction of Justice By Kamala Harris? Efforts To Stop Suit Fail
The state Attorney General Kamala Harris and CTC also sought to argue that since Carroll was a lawyer for the agency, she could not divulge potentially illegal activity at the agency. Harris sought to claim that there was confidentiality required by Carroll and the attorney-client privilege prevented Carroll from taking the CTC to court. The Federal court ruled that in fact Carroll had the right to sue in a retaliatory discharge suit when an attorney is terminated for refusing to violate their professional obligations.
In denying CTC’s legal argument, the Federal Judge noted that CTC’s “reasoning is faulty in several critical respects: first, the CWPA's text does not say what the AG Opinion says it does; and second, the interpretation that follows from this textual misrepresentation contravenes California Supreme Court precedent.” This favorable Federal decision now allowed Carroll to resume her wrongful termination litigation. The decision, which took place on August 16, 2013, was now almost three years since she had been terminated by the agency.
Corruption And Ting Sun’s Connections
After the corruption scandal at the CTC, Ting Sun was not reappointed by Brown, but when her term ran out, she was rewarded by being appointed to the California State Board of Education by Brown. She runs the Natoma Charter school in Sacramento as Executive Director and also is on the board of a Fettulah Gulen controlled charter school chain called Magnolia in California. Gulen is now being charged by the Erdogan government in Turkey with attempting to overthrow the government in the recent coup.
Gulen schools have been involved in corruption scandals throughout the country and have even been raided by the FBI. She is also a big supporter and one of the leaders of the California Charter Teacher Association CCTA where she was past Vice President of Leadership and Quality for the California Charter Schools Association.
The Brown appointed State School Board is now controlled by charter operators and privatization advocates and they have been approving many charter schools despite opposition from school districts and even County Boards of Education.
One thread that runs through the cast of characters in this corruption cover-up crisis is the link to privatization of education and the charter industry, which Governor Brown not only supports but also is part of. He set up two military charter schools in Oakland while he was mayor, and got corporations to give money to them instead of Oakland public schools, which were in dire need.
Background of Commission, Charters And Privatization
After being fired, Carroll also began to intensively research the background of the Commission Board and staff as well as the charter privatization network and she discovered numerous links and financial conflicts of interests.
Statewide, the charter supporters are funded by billionaires, such as Reed Hastings at Netflix, the Gates Foundation, Eli Broad’s Broad Foundation, the Fisher family KIPP Foundation and Zuckerberg at Facebook. These so called “education” experts have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into charters, charter candidates and massive network of pro-charter operations in California and throughout the country to privatize and destroy teacher and education unions.
Carroll also discovered that many of these officials who have been appointed by Governor Brown or elected to boards have financial conflicts of interest but have not been investigated and prosecuted by AG Kamala Harris despite appeals.
Cover-up And Collusion By AG Kamala Harris And Governor Brown
The trial results not only exposed the misconduct and the corruption at the agency but also a story about the cover-up and collusion by Attorney General Kamala Harris and Governor Brown who runs the commission through his appointments. He is directly in charge of the CTC in the executive branch and was fully aware of the audit and it’s damaging evidence against an agency he was in charge of.
Instead of filing criminal charges against CTC managers for being part of the corruption and conspiring to cover-up the corruption and cronyism at the agency, they went after the whistleblowers that included not only Carroll but Mansker and CTC Commission member and lawyer Michael Kaufman.
Kaufman also sought to file bar charges against some of the lawyers at the agency for their unethical activities. However the State Bar officials refused to act on them despite extensive documentation provided to them by Kaufman.
Even former Senator Darrell Steinberg who is now the mayor of Sacramento had also written a letter to Governor Brown asking that there be no retaliation against Carroll for her whistleblowing at the agency. This was completely rejected however by Brown who worked to continue the false accusations against Carroll and allowed his agency to continue to fight against her in court.
Millions Of State Funds Spent Fighting Whistleblower and Stalling Trial
The cost to the California people of millions of tax dollars in an effort to cover-up the ongoing corruption and malfeasance at the agency raises fundamental questions about the integrity and culpability of these officials who were and are personally aware of the systemic corruption at the CTC.
The California state audit provided in depth documentation of the cronyism and systemic corruption, yet Brown and Harris helped defend the termination and efforts to destroy whistleblower Kathleen Carroll. They have fought her struggle for justice and accountability and have allowed their attorneys to slander and assault her character and professionalism. The jury has vindicated Carroll but the silence from Harris and Brown is deafening.
Thousands Of California Teachers Harmed
Thousands of teachers in California have also been directly harmed by the systemic corruption and cronyism at the agency. Many California teachers have faced false testimony in the drive by managers to get them out of the schools throughout the state. Many of these teachers have failed to get any real justice at the CTC. This has been combined with the efforts of charter supporters and privatizers including Governor Brown to scapegoat teachers for “bad” schools and Ting Sun and the CCSF have sought to bring in Teach For America TFA teachers to replace professional teachers saving hundreds of millions of dollars for the charter industry. This shortchanging of the children with new teachers without proper training and experience has created a further discrimination, segregation and divisions in the California public education system. This also is part of the efforts to destroy the public school system and has also helped create a shortage of teachers in California.
Terrorism And Bullying Of Teachers Sanctioned By Brown’s CTC
The continued lack of transparency and favoritism at the board continues as it fights teachers who have been bullied and even put in teacher jails without proper democratic and just cause procedures. Presently there are lawsuits that thousands of teachers at the UTLA have been put in “teacher jails” thereby violating their labor and human rights. The agency under Linda Darling-Hammond has also refused to allow teachers and education staff to have the same rights as school principals and other school managers at CTC hearings.
More Cover-Ups Of Management Abuse By CTC
At San Francisco Martin Luther King Middle School, charges were made that the school principal Natalie Eberhard had physically abused an African American special education student and there was a cover-up by the Assistant Principal Anthony Paxton. In the investigation that was held, CTC staff lawyers refused to interview the teachers and education workers that made the charges of misconduct and allowed Eberhard and the assistant principal Anthony Braxton to stay at the school after bullying and a covering-up the incident. Not only was the abuse allowed by the CTC staff but also 17 staff members were driven out of the school by Eberhard. The UESF union had a press conference to protest the bullying and violence at the school but refused to pursue charges against Eberhard and Braxton at the CTC for violations of the education code and it was left to the teachers and staff to demand accountability.
The board under the present chair Linda Darling Hammond has also worked with Attorney General Harris and Governor Brown to pursue the defense of the real corrupt officials while fighting Carroll every inch of the way.
Corporate Media Silence About CTC Systemic Corruption
The case also has raised the question of the corporate media. The Sacramento Bee was MIA despite the fact that they are in Sacramento where the trial was being held, and covered the release of the state audit on the CTC. They also covered Kathleen Carroll’s loss of her challenge to the firing at the State Personnel Board SPB. The SBP has a long record of failing to defend state whistleblowers and being completely under the control of state administrators and the very managers who are involved in bullying and terrorizing state employees.
The lack of coverage of this important trial about the retaliation by CTC whistleblower Carroll speaks volumes about the role of the media in failing to expose the connections between top government officials and systemic corruption of agencies that they are personally responsible for having oversight of.
It is quite possible that Harris and Brown will appeal Carroll’s court victory. Those who are concerned with protecting not only whistleblowers but also want accountability in the workplace need to focus on these top officials and their own culpability in this serious corruption, cronyism and workplace bullying that threatens the children, public education and the people of California.
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