Ousted City Council Member Dominic Caserta has officially filed suit against his former employer, Santa Clara Unified School District (SCUSD). The lawsuit also names district employees Nora Dipko and Gina Perez as well as a number of unnamed employees within the district.
In the filing, Caserta’s lawyers allege “…negligence, breach of contract, public disclosure of private facts, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting.” The lawsuit was filed with the Superior Court in Santa Clara County on April 29. It requests a jury trial.
According to the lawsuit, the public disclosure of private facts occurred when a local journalist — with San Jose Inside, although the suit doesn’t name the publication — asked SCUSD for information about Caserta. At the time, Caserta was running for a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
The district was still considering the request, when on May 7, 2018, Dipko allegedly sent an unredacted version of Caserta’s personnel file to the district’s legal counsel for review. Dipko allegedly cc’ed “All staff of the district.”
According to the lawsuit, the personnel file included details of two incidents involving students where Caserta was accused of inappropriate behavior.
The lawsuit states, “In 2009, a student complained that Caserta had allegedly given her an unwanted hug; Caserta admitted to having put his arm around her briefly, to console her as she sobbed about a recently diagnosed terminal illness in her family. Other than the brief physical contact, there were no other substantive allegations.”
The student was reportedly removed from Caserta’s class and no disciplinary action was taken by the district.
There are also details about a 2002 interaction between Caserta and an unnamed student at Santa Clara High School. Caserta was accused of making unwanted comments about the student’s shirt, twice running his hands through the student’s hair, putting his hand on her back, and putting his arm around her shoulders. In that case, the parents contacted the school principal.
During the investigation, the principal found students who accused Caserta of “playing favorites” and making personal comments to students. One parent told the principal Caserta was “flirtatious in class.”
The 2002 allegations led to a “warning letter” that directed Caserta “…to refrain from any behavior in the future which would violate the policy,” according to the lawsuit.
Caserta says that the release of his personnel file led to the loss of his job at Santa Clara High School, where he had been a teacher since 1998. He says it also caused him to lose his part-time teaching position at Foothill/De Anza College, forced him to resign from the Santa Clara City Council and ended his candidacy for a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.
The lawsuit states that, “Since the publication or broadcast of the news stories following the release of his confidential file, Caserta has been subject to harassment and defamatory statements both online and in person. His reputation has also suffered greatly, as many members of the Santa Clara County community no longer trust nor respect Caserta and view him with contempt.”
While the exact amount he is suing for is not listed in the filing, Caserta is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, general and special damages as well as interest and attorneys’ fees.
The lawsuit is not a surprise. As The Weekly reported in January 2019, Caserta laid the groundwork for his lawsuit by filing a claim with Santa Clara Unified School District. The claim requested more than $10,000 in damages.
In an unrelated case, Casterta is accused of misconduct with a woman who volunteered on his supervisorial campaign. Lydia Jungkind told NBC Bay Area that during the campaign Caserta “…[touched] my legs, my thighs my hips. He was kissing me on the cheek. He made inappropriate sexual comments.” Jungkind filed a report with police.
Throughout the investigation, Castera maintained his innocence. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office determined late last year that there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges.
In March 2019, Caserta issued a news release that outlined the results of a polygraph test he took regarding allegations of misconduct made by Jungkind. According to the news release, Caserta passed the polygraph test.