School District Demoted Principal Because She Was Pregnant, Unwed: Lawsuit - NBC Southern California

School District Demoted Principal Because She Was Pregnant, Unwed: Lawsuit

Christine Castillo is alleging the district mistreated her and eventually demoted her because of her pregnancy



    Former Principal Claims Demotion Was Due to Pregnancy Discrimination

    A woman says she was demoted from her position as school principal because she was pregnant and unmarried and is suing the La Cañada School District. Hetty Chang reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017. (Published Friday, Jan. 6, 2017)

    A woman has filed a lawsuit against a Southern California school district, alleging that she was eventually demoted from her position as an elementary school principal because she was pregnant and unmarried.

    Christine Castillo moved from Seattle to Los Angeles after she was hired for her "dream job" as the principal at La Cañada Elementary School back in 2012. A few weeks into the job, she announced that she was pregnant. Castillo said that Wendy Sinnette, the superintendent of the La Cañada Unified School District, reacted negatively to the news.

    Sinnette made statements to Castillo such as "This is really going to upset your staff and parents," "I made it clear what this job required" and "I need a drink," stated the lawsuit, which was filed in December of 2016. Sinnette told Castillo that she should have informed the district about her pregnancy sooner.

    "When the words came out of my mouth, I could just see her body just freeze," Castillo told NBC4. "Her face just looked so disappointed.

    "I was excited about being pregnant and starting a family. I wanted to share that with my employer, never thinking it would compromise the work I was going to be doing there."

    Castillo accused the district for mistreating her for the three years that followed her pregnancy. The lawsuit states the district denied her accommodations for her pregnancy and that she received negative performance evaluations from the school staff and the district that didn't take her maternity leave into consideration.

    Castillo filed an internal complaint against the school district in 2015, which led to an internal investigation. Documents on the investigation's findings, obtained by NBC4, show the superintendent and the former superintendent of human resources Patricia Hager were concerned about logistics around Castillo's pregnancy.

    The documents also stated the district was concerned about negative reaction in the community about the pregnancy and the fact that Castillo was unmarried at the time.

    "This is something you would have expected to hear in the 19th or 18th century," said Ben Meiselas, Castillo's attorney. "For the school district to state that being pregnant is a scarlet letter on a woman -- that's a problem if the community really feels that way."

    The district notified Castillo in June 2016 that she was to be reassigned to a classroom position. Castillo left the district that day, and on that evening the district announced the elementary school's new principal, the suit said.

    "It is unfortunate that representatives for Ms. Castillo are pursuing a legal strategy that has nothing to do with the facts. Her placement into the classroom last year had absolutely nothing to do with her maternity leave of four years ago," the La Cañada Unified School District said in a statement to NBC4. 

    "Furthermore, we stand firmly along side our superintendent, Wendy Sinnette, and will not tolerate any misrepresentation of her character or her behavior."

    The district also said in its statement that it has strict protocols and adheres to a "zero-tolerance" policy of discrimination of any kind, and that Castillo's case was no exception.

    "The district simply adhered to performance policies which hold our principals to understandably high standards," the statment read. "We trust that the legal process in this case will find that the district acted appropriately."

    Castillo's attorneys are calling for the district to give Castillo her job as principal back, or for the superintendent's resignation.

    "The experience that I had there was so awful, and it was so debilitating, that it's important for me to say something about it," Castillo said.

    Get the latest from NBC4 anywhere, anytime

    • Download the App

      Available for IOS and Android