Ex-vice principal goes to court

A demoted vice principal wants a jury to decide whether he was discriminated against because of his clinical depression.

With the Chico Unified School District having denied Chuck Sinatra’s formal claim, he filed a lawsuit March 18 alleging that the district violated his civil rights by ordering him back to a teaching position. Also named in the suit are Superintendent Scott Brown and now-Deputy Superintendent Jim Sands, who the suit claims “conspired together” to retaliate against Sinatra and terminate the 29-year employee in violation of his rights under the 14th Amendment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the California Education Code and other statutes.

Sinatra is seeking monetary damages, including punitive damages, back pay, lost retirement benefits and other compensation.

Sinatra’s attorney, Larry Baumbach of Chico, said he believes his client has a strong case, but, “considering the prejudice against mental illness, I would think that we would have a challenge to persuade a jury.”

Attorney John Kelley of Redding, who is handling the case for the CUSD, said he is still gathering facts but did file a demurrer last week stating that the complaint is “vague and uncertain” and the plaintiff needs to outline his causes of action better before the suit can proceed.

Sinatra acknowledges that he has a disability in the form of depression, but despite that, his suit states, he “performed his occupation with great distinction and success.” His career at Chico High School started in 1971, and he garnered awards and was nationally recognized for his work toward better high schools. In a September 2001 interview with the Chico News & Review, Sinatra said he tried to compensate for his depression through simple willpower, but as he aged even the most modern of treatments failed to work for long. “I was there and doing my job,” he said. “Education and students is something I’ve dedicated my life to. … I’d like to retire on my own terms.”

Last year, Sinatra asked that he be allowed to work less than full time, believing that it would mean less stress. But instead, the suit states, Brown rejected Sinatra’s request and reduced his status to that of full-time teacher, a post he never ended up assuming. “It was defendant Scott Brown’s purpose to force [Sinatra] from his employment involuntarily,” the suit states, concluding that he was “constructively discharged.”

Kelley said the CUSD “didn’t have that kind of position available” and offered him a job that was part administrative, part teaching, which Sinatra refused. “He does have the right to ask for a reduced position, but we don’t necessarily have to give him the position he wants.”

Butte County Superior Court Judge Steven J. Howell is set to hear the demurrer on May 28.