Instructor at Continuing Education sues SDCCD and two of its faculty members

Instructor+in+the+Auto+Body+and+Paint+department+refused+to+give+a+free+paint+job.

SDCCD News Center

Instructor in the Auto Body and Paint department refused to give a free paint job.

Justin Choi, Features Editor

An instructor at the Continuing Education program filed a lawsuit against San Diego Community College District along with two of its faculty members, alleging they conspired against him after he refused to participate in a free car repair requested by the president of Continuing Education.

John Louie of the Auto Body and Paint department brought his complaint on Dec. 24, 2019, where he explained in detail the events that made up the alleged “hit job” by the chair, Sam Phu, and the dean, Andrei Lucas.

According to documents filed by the San Diego Superior Court, President Carlos O. Turner Cortez left his BMW X5 in the auto body shop to be repaired on Dec. 10, 2018. Several deans present at the time told Louie that the President had “no business having his car repaired for free at the facility,” outlines the complaint. 

The instructor was placed in a position of looking “unethical” and “possibly of participating in illegal conduct” reads the lawsuit. He discovered that prior discussions of the drop-off had occurred between Phu and Cortez over email, but what was missing was a signed repair order that was required by SDCCD policies and procedures. 

Louie postponed any repairs on the BMW until the signed order was submitted, but the chair rejected the delay and “demanded that the repairs be done for free and without a proper repair order.”

It was later discovered that an email confirmation from the car owner could suffice as a submitted car repair order. The instructor contacted and received an email authorization from Cortez, which allowed the normal process of repair to follow. However, the lawsuit says that the situation put Louie in a contemptuous spotlight, and what followed were a series of allegedly plotted attacks against the instructor. 

“Mr. Louie began experiencing a targeted campaign of harassment and retaliation from colleagues at SDCCD… Sam Phu and Andrei Lucas were attempting to set Mr. Louie up for a negative evaluation and/or disciplinary action by SDCCD; with the goal of either punishing Mr. Louie for refusing to participate in the nepotistic auto-repair scheme, or with the purpose of getting Mr. Louie fired,” reads the legal filing. 

In addition to the alleged biased behavior, Louie discovered that the chair was involved in a scheme of improper use of grants according to the lawsuit. 

“…SDCCD and Sam Phu were obtaining grant funds for one stated purpose, but then knowingly and fraudulently using the grant fund  for unqualified purposes.”

The instructor complained about this, saying that it violated board policies and possibly civil and/or criminal laws. Soon after this action, Robert Jackson, a colleague of Louie, who was assigned to conduct a peer evaluation of the auto body and paint instructor had been replaced by an allegedly known associate and ally of Phu, Bryan Perrin. This replacement “was part of a scheme to set Louie up with a negative evaluation,” as said in the complaint. 

Acts of alleged sabotage on student evaluations took place in January 2019 in the forms of forgery and persuasion. On Jan. 9, the instructor discovered evidence that two negative evaluations were forged to hurt him; there were 24 students present on the day of the evaluation but 26 had been produced, reads the lawsuit. 

“The two unnamed and suspicious evaluations clearly appeared to have the same handwriting, and included suspicious statements and language.” 

The complaint said that Louie discovered alleged evidence of Sam Phu creating these negative evaluations. 

On Jan. 10, Phu had collaborated with Perrin to allegedly attempt to persuade an unnamed student to write a negative statement against the instructor, according to the lawsuit. 

“The student claims Sam Phu tried to persuade her that Mr. Louie had sexually harassed her.” 

The complaint said that she instead gave a positive review, saying she never felt sexually harassed and explained the entirety of Phu and Perrin’s approach.

The lawsuit describes another incident where Louie suffered from verbal harassment while giving a presentation at a staff event held for the auto repair department. Perrin and a fellow staff member were insulting the instructor in front of an audience. 

“Bryan Perrin was observed by witnesses cursing at Louie in front of the entire group. Also, a Mr. Vasquez teamed up with Perrin in calling Louie an ‘asshole,’ saying Louie’s presentation was ‘bullshit’ and that Louie didn’t know anything about teaching, among other insults.”

The lawsuit says that these statements were “defamatory” and “caused him great reputational damage and personal injury,” which led to him to complain about his harassment to his supervisors. Ironically, it was Louie who appeared before the Board, and he left with Notice of Unprofessional Conduct.

The complaint further alleges the instructor’s confidential information was released to defame him.  Additionally, he claims to have suffered “unwanted surveillance and scrutiny.” The legal filing also charges “allies” of Phu made complaints against Louie, including a false writeup. 

These punishments and actions were described in the complaint as “an orchestrated campaign to run Mr. Louie out of the department,” with the final outcome being the loss of the instructor’s job at SDCCD. 

On May 26, 2020, the defendants filed a Memorandum of Points and Authorities where they say their arguments against the plaintiff’s claims and file their demurrers. The arguments are specifically targeted at all eight Causes of Action in the complaint.

The memorandum’s third argument goes against the complaint’s sixth Cause of Action which was “Defamation,” against all of the defendants. It argues that the comments made toward Louie at the department event were not defamatory because they were not “a publication that is false, defamatory, unprivileged, and has a natural tendency to injure or causes special damage.” 

“… none of the statements are actionable as slander, because without more, they all represent personal opinions of the speakers,” reads the argument.

Specifically, the comment that Louie ‘didn’t know anything about teaching’ was argued to be a “hyperbolic opinion, since Plaintiff is, in fact, a teacher with inherent teaching skills.” 

This argument claims that because these statements made to the instructor were merely opinions, they are protected under the First Amendment. 

The first, second, and fourth arguments claim that the first seven Causes of Action fail to cite laws attributed to the plaintiff’s complaints. 

In the first argument, it describes the first and second Causes of Action, those being “Discrimination and failure to present discrimination of whistleblower employee,” and “Retaliation and failure to prevent retaliation against whistleblower employee,” as inadequate because there was no law cited that President Cortez violated.

Furthermore, the argument reads that the complaint regarding the district and Phu’s illegal obtaining of grants is insufficient because it fails to cite any “law, statute or rule” that was violated. 

“The nature of the grants at issue is completely unknown… where are the grants from?”

Both Lucas and Phu have individually said they are unable to comment against the allegations made against them. 

The defendants have filed a motion strike on the complaints listed above and others on March 29.