Paso teacher was demoted after reporting inappropriate touching, lawsuit says

The San Luis Obispo Courthouse.
The San Luis Obispo Courthouse.

A Paso Robles teacher recently filed a lawsuit claiming she was demoted after reporting another teacher’s allegedly inappropriate behavior to school officials.

Lora Dixon, a former Liberty Continuation High School teacher, alleges Paso Robles Joint Unified School District officials retaliated against her last year after she complained that a male teacher inappropriately touched female students and used a racial slur during class in 2016.

The Tribune is not naming the male teacher because he has never been arrested or charged with any crimes related to the alleged conduct described in the lawsuit.

Among the 22 complaints in Dixon’s San Luis Obispo County Superior Court lawsuit are claims she was harassed and discriminated and retaliated against for reporting the alleged sexual harassment and use of racial slurs.

Civil lawsuits represent only one side of the story.

Martha Clayton, a district spokeswoman, said officials are aware of the lawsuit, but “cannot discuss personnel issues.” Jennifer Gaviola, the deputy superintendent, confirmed Dixon is still employed by the district and said the male teacher named in the lawsuit is “in good standing with the district.”

Dixon alleges two female students accused the male teacher of touching them inappropriately in January and February 2017. One student said he allegedly “called her demeaning names in front of the class and inappropriately rubbed her thighs, despite her constantly telling him to stop.”

The suit claims another student said the teacher “inappropriately touched her buttocks, groin and thighs.”

In the lawsuit, Dixon says she reported the first student’s complaints to Fred Kloepper, president of Paso Robles Public Educators, and Tina Lessi, a school counselor.

The next day, the lawsuit says, the male teacher “came up close to (Dixon’s) face while aggressively pointing and yelled, ‘I thought we had a deal that you would come to me with this student drama!’ 

A “secretive meeting regarding (Dixon)” was also allegedly held, and a complaint letter signed by other teachers was sent to the district office “in an effort to harass (Dixon) based on her association with the female student.”

According to the suit, after the second student complained about the male teacher’s behavior, her parents reported him to the police. The next day, another teacher allegedly berated the student and called her a “liar,” the suit says.

The Paso Robles Police Department confirmed the existence of an investigation report regarding the male teacher, which remains active.

During this time, Dixon says in the lawsuit that she repeatedly complained to Frank Panian, the human resources officer, about her “hostile work environment.” Dixon says she was transferred out of Liberty in late February and demoted to a substitute teacher.

The lawsuit claims a similar situation occurred in November 2016, after Dixon told Principal Nate Maas a parent had complained to her about the male teacher using a racial slur during class.

In response to the complaints, Dixon claims, a staff meeting was held and “teachers expressed frustration with the student complaints while subjecting (Dixon) to disapproving glares.” Dixon says she later received a negative performance evaluation from Gaviola and a letter of reprimand.

Dixon declined to comment on the lawsuit and directed The Tribune to her lawyers. The Law Offices of Reisner and King in Sherman Oaks did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden

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