A wrongful-termination lawsuit filed by a former Olive Grove Charter School employee alleges the school’s leader misused public funds, had a romantic relationship with a school contractor, improperly hired one of her daughters, and changed another daughter’s grades.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this month in Santa Barbara County Superior Court on behalf of Dawn Wilson, who was hired in 2016 as a part-time human resources/administrative assistant, and later twice promoted and appointed as board treasurer.
A year ago she was promoted to work as controller and chief operating officer, earning approximately $103,000, until her termination July 31, 2018, after Wilson raised several concern, the lawsuit claims.
Olive Grove Charter School is an alternative public school that offers homeschooling or a blended option of home and classroom schooling for elementary and high school students. The school has locations in Santa Barbara, Buellton, Lompoc, Orcutt/Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and New Cuyama.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Nicole Ricotta from Anticouni & Associates, alleges violation of the California Labor Code, wrongful termination and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“We have not seen the complaint apparently filed by former employee Dawn Wilson, but at this time the school anticipates vigorously defending the lawsuit and proving the allegations baseless,” Olive Grove Executive Director Laura Mudge said.
Wilson complained about Olive Grove’s “unethical and unlawful behavior” to the charter school’s board of directors, alleging conflicts of interest, misuse of public funds and falsifying grades.
She alleged Mudge had an affair with Nick Driver, the senior vice president of Charter School Management Corporation, which has the largest contract with Olive Grove.
“Ms. Mudge’s failure to disclose to the board her personal relationship with Mr. Driver is a violation of the OGCS Conflict of Interest Code pursuant to California Government Code section 87300,” the lawsuit says. “Therefore, Ms. Mudge’s actions constituted unlawful activity.”
The lawsuit also contends Mudge hired her daughter, Anna Mudge, to teach. However, the position was not properly advertised, and the lawsuit claims that the Anna Mudge did not have a credential to work as a substitute or intern.
The lawsuit doesn’t mention when Anna Mudge was hired, but California Commission on Teacher Credentialing records show she received an emergency substitute teaching credential in November 2017, and a single-subject teaching credential valid until Jan. 1, 2020. A certificate of clearance will expire Oct. 1, 2022.
Additionally, the lawsuit says Anna Mudge was hired as a teacher’s assistant for $48,000 a year, an hourly rate of nearly $38 an hour that was higher than the $15 hourly rate paid to other teacher’s assistants.
“Ms. Mudge misused public funds in violation of California Penal Code section 424 by inflating her daughter’s salary,” the lawsuit says. “Plaintiff complained about Ms. Mudge’s misuse of public funds to Mr. (Bill) Anaya (school board president) on several occasions. “
The plaintiff also complained about spending to Mudge, questioning $10,000 on a salt-water fish tank for a marine biology class not yet offered, a five-star hotel stay in New Orleans although hotels closer to the conference site had lower rates, and more. The expenses occurred before the board authorize the spending, the lawsuit says.
In April 2018, Wilson complained to Anaya that the executive director spent $43,745 on computers without board permission, and despite the fact her spending limit was $10,000.
“Plaintiff complained to Ms. Mudge about her misuse of public funds to book a hotel room in Santa Barbara, which is against school policy due to the lack of distance from district office, for the sole purpose of a romantic rendezvous with Mr. Driver,” the lawsuit said.
In July, the school board president told Wilson that a “disgruntled employee” had complained Mudge had unilaterally changed the senior year grades of her daughter, Juliette Mudge.
The daughter’s “poor grades were subsequently changed to A’s and B’s in the computer system, even though it was mathematically impossible to achieve such grades. This means that the master teacher didn’t change the grades,” the lawsuit says.
The school board president instructed Wilson to investigate the unlawful grade change, so she contacted the school registrar to collect information, according to the civil complaint.
Ten days later, Mudge placed the plaintiff on administrative leave and terminated her employment, “citing violations of school policy and unsatisfactory job performance” as the reasons for the termination.
The lawsuit seeks loss of earnings, compensatory, general and special damages, punitive damages and costs associated with the legal action.
This is isn’t the first lawsuit filed by a former employee.
The school faced other lawsuits from former employees in 2016 and 2017, but those were settled before trial, according to court records.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.