A former assistant superintendent in Sonoma County's largest school district has filed a lawsuit against the school board saying she was unfairly dismissed from her post last year after enduring harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
Anastasia Zita was released effective June 30, 2013, from the approximately $140,000-a-year position overseeing curriculum and instruction for secondary schools that she had held since 2005.
In a lawsuit filed April 18, Zita, 52, says she received harassing communications from Santa Rosa City Schools Superintendent Socorro Shiels, was passed over for a professional development opportunities because of her race and age, was asked to check on a campus sewer problem and was discouraged from taking family leave to care for her ailing mother. She names the seven-member school board as well as up to 50 as-yet-unnamed defendants in her suit.
Zita's termination came amid a time of change for the district, as Shiels has shaken up the district's staff and realigned priorities since her hire in 2012. While not addressing Zita's departure specifically, union and district officials characterized a series of recent departures as part of a cultural shift described by some as healthy.
The lawsuit follows two previous complaints filed by Zita with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
"(Zita) is informed and believes that her employment was terminated as a result of discrimination based on her age (over forty (40)) and race in violation of government code," the suit reads.
Zita is asking for "not less than" $4 million in damages. She is also asking for removal of all defamatory documents from her personnel file and that all district employees be trained on the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Family Rights Act.
"Plaintiff's emotional distress includes suffering anguish, fright, horror, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shock, humiliation and shame," according to the 21-page complaint.
Neither Zita, nor her Petaluma-based attorney VaLinda Kyrias, returned repeated phone calls for comment this week.
"Ms. Zita was not discriminated against because of her use of leave time as she originally claimed or because of her gender, race, age or engagement in a protected activity as she has more recently," said Mark Peters, the attorney representing the district.
School board members Laura Gonzalez, Larry Haenel, Donna Jeye and Jenni Klose declined to comment on the suit. School Board president Bill Carle and trustees Ron Kristof and Frank Pugh did not return phone calls.
Shiels, the second-year superintendent who is accused in the suit of sending "harassing and demeaning communications" to Zita while favoring Latina employees, also declined via email to comment.
In the suit, Zita indicates that other district employees were mistreated, but she does not elaborate.
Andy Brennan, president of the approximately 900-member Santa Rosa Teachers Association, would not comment directly on the suit because he had not seen the complaint, but did say that since Shiels took the top post on July 1, 2012, there has been a move in a new direction for the 16,400-student district.
"She can be very demanding of her staff," he said of Shiels. "She expects high standards and she has definitely got a vision of where she wants to go. Whenever you have got strong leadership it can provoke strong reactions.
Since Shiels took over the top post on July 1, 2012, there has been significant turnover in the district office. At least 13 high-ranking officials have left — either retiring, resigning, taking jobs in other districts or moving to positions of lesser authority elsewhere in the district.