Rafe Esquith, a teacher of fifth-grade students at the Hobart Elementary School in Los Angeles who gained national attention for his Hobart Shakespeareans, won the right to sue the Los Angeles Unified School District for firing him in 2015. Esquith was accused of sexual improprieties, which he denied.
A state appellate court panel Thursday upheld a trial judge’s ruling that a former Los Angeles Unified School District teacher can move forward with his lawsuit alleging he was removed from his classroom for criticizing many of the school district’s policies and initiatives.
The three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal found that Rafe Esquith’s causes of action did not arise out of an employment investigation conducted against him and that therefore the district was not engaged in “protected activity,” which would have been grounds for dismissing the case.
“We agree that Esquith’s claims do not arise from a protected employment investigation,” Justice Audrey Collins wrote. “Rather, Esquith has alleged that defendants harassed him, discriminated against him, and retaliated against him, and to accomplish these ends they engaged in a baseless investigation and took adverse employment actions against Esquith.”
Zack Muljat, one of Esquith’s attorneys, issued a statement on the ruling.
“We agreed with the ruling in the trial court and we agree with the opinion of the Court of Appeal,” Muljat said. “We look forward to the opportunity to forge ahead and bring justice to Mr. Esquith.”
In his July 2016 ruling, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney said he could not grant the district’s motion to dismiss Esquith’s entire complaint because some of his claims did not fall under what is considered protected speech and the right of the LAUSD to conduct an investigation of the teacher.
Mooney’s ruling meant that Esquith’s claims of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, the taking of items from his classroom, retaliation, age discrimination and unfair business practices remained in the case. He also is seeking reinstatement to his teaching position.
“Esquith alleged that he was an outspoken critic of certain LAUSD policies and he was nearing retirement, and as a result (the district) retaliated and discriminated against him by removing him from his teaching position and conducting a baseless, meandering investigation designed to damage Esquith’s career and reputation,” Collins wrote.
Esquith, 63, was removed from his Hobart Elementary School classroom in April 2015. The district began investigating him when another teacher came forward to allege that Esquith was using inappropriate sexual language with his students….
Esquith says he never received a complaint from a parent or teacher during his 30 years as an educator.
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