HomeCity NewsSchool District Files Strong Opposition to Norgaard’s Bid for Restraining Order

School District Files Strong Opposition to Norgaard’s Bid for Restraining Order

Chris Norgaard, right, has filed for a temporary restraining order against his fellow school board members. Mitch Lehman Photo

The San Marino Unified School District on Friday filed a strongly worded brief in federal court that opposes the temporary restraining order brought by a longtime school board member, saying it might be the most frivolous application filed this year.

Furthermore, the relief that Christopher Norgaard is requesting from the court has “already largely been afforded” him, according to the 22-page written brief filed June 15.

“And the one federal claim on which he rests the application (among the many vague claims not pressed) lacks any merit as a matter of fact and well-established, controlling law,” the brief states. The opposing brief to the Temporary Restraining Order, or TRO,  was prepared by the School District’s attorneys Appalla U. Chopra, Dimitri Portnoi, Mathew T. Kline and Patrick S. McNalley of O’Melveny & Myers. Norgaard’s attorneys are Guy P. Glazier and Deborah M. Parker of Glazier Yee.

The School District asked Norgaard to recuse himself from closed session meetings regarding the evaluation process of Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss, because Norgaard named him in a lawsuit against the district. Norgaard also names all the School Board members as well as Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Linda de la Torre. The board members named are President Shelley Ryan, Vice President Lisa Link, Nam Jack and C. Joseph Chang.

Meanwhile, Norgaard refused to be excluded from evaluating Cherniss and therefore is seeking the TRO.

Norgaard also is seeking a permanent injunction against the School District for what he claims is the violation of his constitutional rights as a member of the SMUSD Board of Education.

Norgaard claims that his First Amendment rights were violated by not being permitted to vote on board matters. The district disputes this claim.

“The reality is that he continues to vote on all items that come before the board, including votes this past week,” the brief states. “Indeed, when the board voted on his recusal in May, he made a long speech and lost 4 to 1.”

Norgaard is suing the district in federal court saying his civil rights were violated under the First and 14th Amendments. He’s seeking unspecified compensatory, special and punitive damages as well as attorney fees. Norgaard claims that this entire issue is about allegations that he behaved in a sexually inappropriate manner. He has denied the allegations and even has gone so far as to say, “no person interviewed perceived it to be sexually motivated or offensive,” according to Norgaard’s lawsuit.

The School District disputes this.

“The bottom-line is that Norgaard did engage in unwanted kissing of district personnel; this and other conduct made district employees deeply uncomfortable,” the district brief states. “The district took tailored measures to address these issues.”

As an example, Cherniss’s 74-page declaration mentions six “Jane Does” who provided statements to the School District and the law firm of Nicole Miller & Associates, all of whom investigated the accusations, which date back as far as 2010, before Cherniss was named superintendent.

“Jane Doe 1,” who is referenced as an employee of the SMUSD, provided a statement in January 2018 regarding two alleged incidents where Norgaard hugged her and kissed her on the lips at school events in 2015 and 2016.

The Miller report, dated March 22 — which was undertaken at the behest of the school district—concluded that “both witnesses maintained they were not offended or made to feel uncomfortable by Mr. Norgaard’s behavior, nor did they perceive Mr. Norgaard’s actions as sexual in nature.” But Jane Doe 1 refuted the finding in a letter to de la Torre dated April 9, just seven days after she met with de la Torre to discuss “the relevant part of the decision affecting my specific complaint.”

According to the letter, de la Torre told Jane Doe 1 that the findings of the report deduced that the “incidents did not rise to the level of ‘severe and pervasive’ and that it was therefore concluded that the Board Member’s conduct did not constitute sexual harassment. The report also concluded that Norgaard did “at times, engage in unsolicited hugging and kissing of female employees, visited young female employees in the workplace, and contacted female employees outside of work hours regarding non-district related matters.”

Jane Doe 1 stated in the letter: “I disagree with the results of this investigation. I felt violated and embarrassed because he crossed a boundary, that as my superior, he should not have crossed.” She also stated that “the second kiss on the lips bothered me even more than the first because it validated that the first was not an accident.”

She also called the experience “a nightmare.”

“I am sick to my stomach, haven’t been able to sleep, have anxiety and feel like the district isn’t taking these complaints seriously,” she continued. She also mentions in the letter that she is “now forced to consult with an attorney to make sure that I am protected against further retaliation from this Board Member and would like the district to reconsider the unprofessional manner in which it allows its authority figures to treat/harass employees.” One employee who witnessed a kissing incident and other conduct — including his frequently visiting young, female employees — noted that this behavior made her uncomfortable.

Miller’s report also stated that, during the investigation, Norgaard “admitted he ‘might’ hug or kiss people who he has known for a long time, but that the greeting is often initiated by the other person leaning toward him first.”

Cherniss’s declaration also mentions two other Jane Does who contacted the district office in July and August of 2010. One alleged unacceptable behavior that was “cause for concern” and complaints from another, according to Cherniss’s statement, who had received multiple emails and instant messages from Norgaard. The report, which is redacted, was sent to Dr. Gary Woods, who was superintendent at the time.

Finally, the district’s brief summarizes its opposition this way.

“Norgaard’s TRO, which seeks to punish anyone who dare hold him accountable to the same rules that apply to everyone else in the district, should be denied.”

Norgaard now has until Monday by 5 p.m. to file his rebuttal to the district’s opposition. Then, it will be up to the court to decide whether a TRO is warranted or if a court hearing is required.

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