A former Los Banos High English teacher who claimed he was harassed by administrators after he spoke out against the superintendent has settled a federal lawsuit against the Los Banos Unified School District for $350,000.
The agreement ended a five-year dispute that included allegations of retaliation and a restraining order.
Mark Duffy filed the lawsuit in 2015 against the school district, its former Superintendent Steve Tietjen, and administrators Ryan Hartsoch, Veli Gurgen and Dan Sutton, alleging he was retaliated against for exercising his First Amendment rights, according to court documents.
During a 2012 school board meeting, Duffy had spoken out against Tietjen's decision to reassign former Los Banos High Principal Dan Martin, and claimed Tietjen engaged in personal attacks and threatened faculty members' jobs, according to Duffy's civil complaint.
According to the complaint, Tietjen allegedly took offense and ordered the Los Banos High and Pacheco High principals Hartsoch and Gurgen, and Sutton, who was a Los Banos High assistant principal, to further scrutinize Duffy's job performance, eventually leading to a poor performance review by Sutton and letters of reprimand by Hartsoch.
The settlement signed on Jan. 4 stipulates that Duffy is to be paid a lump-sum check of $350,000 by the defendants, and he would drop his lawsuit and all claims against the school district and its administrators.
It also states the agreement doesn't imply guilt, and that the defendants "have contested, and continue to contest" Duffy's allegations.
Duffy on Monday referred questions to his Fresno-based attorney, Kevin Little.
Little said he would not comment on the specifics of the agreement. But he said Duffy was happy with the settlement.
"Mr. Duffy is glad that this is now behind him," Little said. "He is looking forward to moving on."
Duffy also alleged in his lawsuit that a rest period granted for his coronary condition was rescinded after Martin's reassignment, and that his stress from "unfair scrutiny and retaliation" may have contributed to a second heart attack in September 2013.
During this time, a Merced County judge signed a restraining order against Duffy, after Hartsoch claimed Duffy stood outside his home making an obscene gesture with his hand and repeatedly followed Hartsoch from his home to school.
Duffy was fired by the school board with a 4-2 vote on Dec. 18, 2014, according to Sun-Star archives.
District officials and board members who voted in favor of the firing declined comment at the time, citing ongoing litigation. But Tietjen gave a statement.
"The superintendent is hired to hold the system responsible for student outcomes," Tietjen said in the statement. "When the system works people are held responsible and often people don't like being held responsible."
Tietjen and school board President Anthony Parreira on Monday declined to comment about the settlement and referred questions to the school district's attorney, Modesto-based Stephanie Wu.
Wu said in an email response that the school district has paid 25 percent of the settlement, or $87,500. The rest of the settlement was paid by an insurance pool of school districts.
The former and current administrators named in the agreement didn't pay into the settlement, Wu said.
The school district decided to settle the lawsuit because attorney fees and other costs by the end of a trial could far outweigh the cost of the settlement, Wu explained.
Los Banos Unified's administration has significantly changed since the lawsuit was first filed.
Hartsoch in 2015 resigned his position to take a job in Roseville, according to Sun-Star archives. Gurgen succeeded him as Los Banos High principal, and Sutton became the Pacheco High principal.
Tietjen in 2016 left the Los Banos school district to become a superintendent in training for Merced County. He was appointed as the Merced County superintendent of schools last year and faces two opponents in the June 5 election for the position.
Duffy's attorney said his client is not currently teaching but has plans to start a new career after the settlement.