A former Fontana Unified School District School Police dispatcher has been awarded more than $315,000 by a jury after she claimed she and three other co-workers were sexually harassed by a former FUSD School Police officer.
Dispatcher Jolee Berdnik had claimed that she was released on probation in retaliation for making a report against John Garcia, the former officer.
The FUSD denied releasing the dispatcher in retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, and instead claimed that there were legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons for releasing the dispatcher three days short of her completing the one year of probation.
Berdnik filed suit in 2012, and after a trial which started in June of this year, the jury returned the verdict against the FUSD on July 2.
Because Berdnik won at trial, her attorneys will file post-trial motions seeking more than $1 million in attorneys’ fees, as well as accrued interest of more than $50,000. Her attorneys are Brian G. Hannemann of Upland and Josh Milon and Angel Pluas of Pasadena.
Hannemann said Berdnik offered to settle the case for $300,000 two years ago, but the offer was rejected.
This is the second of four cases arising from the alleged misconduct of Garcia.
Garcia has never been arrested or charged with any crime.
The first case, Amanda Vandervoort v. Fontana Unified School District, resulted in a verdict of $1.487 million against the
district and Garcia, who was also ordered to pay punitive damages of $5 million.
The two other cases, involving plaintiffs Gina Chavers and Cindy Aguilera, are scheduled for trial later this year.
In the Vandervoort case, the lawsuit alleged that Garcia sexually assaulted and sexually harassed Vandervoort repeatedly, and that the FUSD knew or should have known of the harassing conduct and failed to take immediate and appropriate corrective action. The FUSD claimed that Garcia and Vandervoort engaged in consensual sex, that FUSD officials did not become aware of it until a year later, and when they did, the district terminated Garcia for misconduct.
Hannemann claimed that each of the alleged sexual assaults occurred in the same manner between October of 2010 and September of 2011 before Garcia was placed on administrative leave and eventually terminated.
Hannemann said he is “stunned” that Garcia has not been prosecuted.
“(San Bernardino County) District Attorney Mike Ramos steadfastly touts his advocacy for crime victims. The District Attorney’s Office has an obligation and a duty to right this injustice and my clients demand that he prosecute former Officer
Garcia for his (alleged) crimes,” Hannemann said.
“Additionally, the School District terminated Officer Garcia based on my clients’ testimony, yet they waste taxpayer money on high-priced lawyers to fight my clients in their effort to obtain justice for the actions of a School District employee. The School District has refused to take responsibility for the actions of their former officer,” Hannemann added.
Hannemann said the FUSD needs to “stop wasting taxpayer money and come to the table with an apology instead of blaming each of the victims.”
“When will the School District stop wasting money on the law firms who gave the bad advice and have only made the problem worse?” Hannemann asked. “When are the victims going to get closure and move on, instead of having to go to court and waste time and resources that should be better spent on preventing harassment instead of lining the School District’s lawyers’ pockets?”
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