LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A former Los Angeles Unified school psychologist is suing the district, alleging she was forced to resign in 2021 in frustration over seeing too many minority students being shuttled into special education programs for unjustified reasons and from hearing racially insensitive remarks by administrators.
Michelle Morales, who is Black and Latino, brought the suit Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court. Her allegations include wrongful constructive termination, whistleblower retaliation, discrimination, harassment, failure to prevent discrimination, harassment or retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She seeks unspecified damages.
An LAUSD representative issued a statement Monday regarding the lawsuit saying, "Los Angeles Unified has not been served with this lawsuit and we do not comment on pending or ongoing litigation. However, the safety and well-being of our students remains our top priority."
Morales was hired in August 2016 and her first job was at Hart Street Elementary School, the suit states.
"From the start of her employment ... Morales encountered illegal and racist conduct from school administrators," the suit alleges.
At Hart Street School, Morales received unusually long lists of Black and Latino students referred by their teachers for special education due to alleged behavioral and academic struggles in the classroom, the suit states. Morales later learned that school administrators were singling out minority students who, if they in any way acted in a manner in the classroom that left the administration unhappy, were moved into special education, according to the suit.
"Morales felt deeply disturbed by this practice," the suit states.
Morales contacted her supervisor about her concerns and the plaintiff was eventually transferred to Gledhill Street Elementary School in late 2017, the suit states. At Gledhill, the principal, a white woman, confided in Morales that she "really hated it when Mexican parents think they can come to the district and get whatever they want, they act entitled," the suit states.
"Morales was shocked and told (the principal) that she was Hispanic and was offended by this racist comment," the suit states.
The principal replied, "But you are different. You are educated and you are not like them," the suit states.
Despite Morales' numerous complaints, the principal continued to make racially insensitive comments, including her lament that her son was "hanging out with Black ghetto kids and was acting like them," the suit states.
Morales was subsequently assigned to Langdon Elementary School in August 2018 and on her first day there, she overheard an assistant principal yell at a Latina worker, then turn to the plaintiff and say, "See how I dealt with that employee? Don't mess with me or that's how I am going to deal with you," the suit states.
In the spring of 2019, after struggling for three years with the alleged racism and unethical behavior in the workplace, Morales was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, the suit states.
In mid-March 2020, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Morales began working remotely along with the rest of the staff, the suit states. In a performance review, Morales was told she was "not a team player and was not communicating well with others," the suit states.
"Morales was taken aback by this reprimand, strongly suspecting that she was being retaliated against for raising legitimate issues about the discriminatory conduct of school administrators," the suit states.
On Dec. 7, 2021, no longer able to endure the hostile work environment, Morales submitted her resignation letter, outlining the issues she had dealt with regarding discrimination, mistreatment and misplacement of Black and Latino students, the impact on her mental health and the administration's alleged lack of racial awareness and cultural competency, the suit states.