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P.E. teacher files lawsuit alleging racial discrimination

At Palisades Charter High

OW Staff Writer | 10/15/2020, midnight

A Black physical education teacher is suing Palisades Charter High School, alleging she was fired after the first day of instruction at her alma mater in 2018 because of her race.

The allegations in Utopia Kates’ Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit include wrongful termination, discrimination, race-based harassment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She’s seeking unspecified damages.

Kates, 29, was hired as a physical education teacher at the school on Aug. 2, 2018, after completing interviews and training, and “was commended on the quality of her presentation and work product by different faculty and the school administration,” according to her court papers filed on Sept. 25.

She was happy to begin her employment at the campus, which she attended in her middle and high school years, because she was “breaking down racial barriers” by being the only Black teacher in her department and had achieved this goal while still in her 20s, according to her suit.

Through Aug. 15, 2018, the first day of instruction, Kates says she attended and completed all the required meetings, orientations and training, including the new teacher orientation, a physical education professional development meeting and all-teacher professional development meetings.

When she was a student at the school, Kates thrived both scholastically and in her involvement with its sports programs, but she also was subjected to “unwelcome treatment” from a teacher, resulting in the plaintiff and her mother filing a complaint, the suit states.

The complaint and the animosity from the administration carried over all the years to when Kates joined the faculty, where some of the teachers she had as a student were still employed, according to the plaintiff.

On the initial day of classes, Kates found out she had not been given the materials promised to her by the school administration to complete her tasks and work, including a laptop and materials to teach her students and carry out her lesson plans, according to the suit.

Kates did not understand why she was the only teacher denied materials, but she performed her instruction as best she could with the limited resources she had, the suit states. At the end of the school day, Kates received a call from Amy Nguyen, the school’s director of human resources, who told her during a subsequent meeting that she was being fired because she was not a “good fit,” the suit alleges.

“Plaintiff was shocked as she had been hired, trained and began the semester with her students, only to receive a termination notice at the end of the first day of instruction,” the suit states.

Kates spoke to Assistant Principal Monica  Iannessa, who hired her, and Iannessa said she was “shocked” to hear what happened and that she considered her a “valuable teacher and coach for the school and for the staff,” the suit states.

As the two walked out of the school, Kates says she was approached by a police officer who told her he was escorting her out of the school.

“Plaintiff was flabbergasted ... (and) believes and alleges that her termination was directly related to her race, ancestry and ethnic background as she was the only African-American physical education teacher,” the suit states.