Olive Grove Charter Sued for Alleged Wrongful Termination
By edhat staff
A former employee of Olive Grove Charter School has filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination and misappropriation of funds, amongst other claims.
The lawsuit was filed last week at the Superior Court of California in Santa Barbara by Anticouni & Associates on behalf of Dawn Wilson, who was hired in February 2016 as a part-time Human Resources/Administrative Assistant. The complaints include violations of California Labor Codes, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Olive Grove Charter School is registered as a non-profit and has locations in Santa Barbara, Buellton, Lompoc, Orcutt/Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo, and New Cuyama. The school provides voluntary alternative public education for students from transitional kindergarten through 12th grade. It offers home-school services, textbook, and online curriculums.
"We have not seen the complaint apparently filed by former employee Dawn Wilson, but at this time the school anticipates vigorously defending the lawsuit and proving the allegations baseless," said Olive Grove Charter School Executive Director and CEO Laura Mudge in an email to edhat.
During Wilson's tenure, she was promoted twice and appointed to Board Treasurer. In March 2018, she was promoted to the full-time position of Controller and Chief Operating Officer, earning $103,000 per year. She remained in this position until her termination on July 31, 2018. She oversaw day to day operations, including legal issues, program development, student engagement, and also worked with the Accounting Department and Board of Directors and Officers.
Wilson states she complained to the Board about Mudge engaging in unethical and unlawful behavior including misuse of public funds, falsifying grades, and conflicts of interest. The lawsuit alleges Mudge was having a romantic relationship with a senior officer of the Charter School Management Corporation, which has the largest contract with Olive Grove. Their contract is for five years and a fee of 2% based on revenue, which the revenue was expected to be $8 million for the 2018-2019 school year. The lawsuit states Mudge's failure to disclose the relationship violates a Conflict of Interest Code in California.
It's also claimed one of Mudge's daughters was hired as a Teaching Assistant without proper credentials, circumventing proper hiring protocol, and was paid more than double the going rate for this position. Additionally, Wilson raised concerns over spending $10,000 on a salt-water-fish-tank for a Marine Biology Class that was not yet offered, $6,000 on a robotics program, booking a five star hotel in New Orleans for a conference where more reasonably priced alternatives were closer to the location, $2,000 on a loveseat, and $4,400 on camera equipment for a photography class. Mudge also allegedly ordered nearly $44,000 worth of computers without approval when the spending limit is $10,000 without Board authorization. All result in an accusation of misuse of public funds.
On July 11, 2018, Board President Bill Anaya asked Wilson to investigate a suspected grade change to another one of Mudge's daughters, who graduated that summer from Olive Grove. After investigating, Wilson discovered someone with access to the system changed the student's grades to improve them before they were finalized and sent to UC Santa Cruz, where the student was ultimately accepted. Wilson provided her findings to Anaya on July 15, 2018.
About a week later, on July 23, 2018, Mudge placed Wilson on Administrative Leave. On July 30, 2018, Wilson received a notification of her termination from Olive Grove citing violations of school policy and unsatisfactory job performance as the reason for the termination. The lawsuit states prior to the termination, Wilson had never received prior notice about poor job performance.
Wilson is seeking loss of earnings, compensatory, general and special damages, punitive damages and costs associated with the legal action.
Olive Grove is funded according to enrollment and receive funding from the California Department of Education, Santa Barbara County Office of Education Santa Barbara Union School District, Santa Ynez Valley Union School District, Lompoc Unified School District, and Santa Maria Joint Union School District.