Lawsuit: Theuerkauf teacher says she was fired after reporting sexual harassment

Claims Mountain View Whisman officials failed to prevent 'abusive' Theuerkauf teacher from harassing female colleagues

A former Theuerkauf Elementary School teacher filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging she was fired in retaliation for reporting a hostile and abusive work environment.

Crysti Flowers-Haywood, who taught at Theuerkauf for one year, filed a civil suit against the Mountain View Whisman School District claiming that she and others were subjected to sexual harassment and violence by first grade teacher Bryan Rios during the 2017-18 school year.

The suit alleges that the district was aware of Rios and his "propensity to violence and/or his harassment of other women at the district" but repeatedly failed to prevent it, instead responding to complaints by transferring him to Theuerkauf. Flowers-Haywood alleges that after complaining, former Theuerkauf Principal Ryan Santiago suddenly became overly critical and scrutinizing of her work, and told her she was "not a good fit" for the school or the district.

Rios was arrested in November 2017 on sexual assault charges including forced sodomy. The Santa Clara County District Attorney's office declined to prosecute the case, citing insufficient evidence. The arrest prompted district officials to put Rios on administrative leave.

District spokeswoman Shelly Hausman told the Voice in an email that the district has yet to be served the complaint and cannot respond to the allegations in the lawsuit. Speaking generally, she said the district moved swiftly to remove Rios during the criminal investigation and that he later resigned. Flowers-Haywood was released "in accordance with the terms of her temporary contract and applicable law," Hausman said.

"Any allegation or suggestion that the district terminated or retaliated against any employee for speaking out about Mr. Rios’ alleged conduct is entirely false and misleading," she said.

Flowers-Haywood was hired to teach reading and writing to students in kindergarten to third grade as part of Theuerkauf's Response to Instruction (RTI) program. The program supports students with remedial and enrichment activities four times a week and involves frequent one-on-one meetings with other teachers at the school. Almost immediately after joining the district in August 2017, Flowers-Haywood said she was sexually harassed by Rios, who acted "in a hostile, erratic and aggressive manner" towards her and other female teachers.

Rios would comment on what female teachers were wearing and how they wore their hair, and would talk to them in an aggressive and combative manner including yelling and clenching his jaw, according to the civil complaint. At some point during the school year, Flowers-Haywood reported observing strange behavior in which Rios would teach classes in the dark and cover his classroom windows with paper so he could not be observed.

Another teacher at the school, referred to as Jane Doe in the suit, told Flowers-Haywood that Rios bumped, grabbed and shoved her in front of students in November 2017. Santiago and Assistant Superintendent Carmen Ghysels were notified of the alleged sexual harassment and battery but did not take steps to ensure the safety of employees on campus, according to the complaint.

"Crysti did what she was supposed to do -- she complained when she saw behavior that was inappropriate," said Erika Jacobsen White, the attorney representing Flowers-Haywood. "And when it didn't get resolved, she complained again, and her complaints were systematically ignored."

Rios was put on administrative leave on Nov. 9 for "personnel reasons," which district officials declined to detail at the time. He was arrested 20 days later on sexual assault charges by the Santa Clara Police Department, but prosecutors later declined to press charges.

Starting in January, Flowers-Haywood said she was subject to a disciplinary meeting and a sudden increase in scrutiny and criticism by Santiago, which she believes was prompted by her complaints about the hostile workplace environment. She repeatedly asked about her "letter of recommendation" in order to continue her position at Theuerkauf and claims it was withheld by Santiago and later by Ghysels over the course of nearly three months -- a move that she describes as "holding her career hostage."

Santiago was among four principals who were either "released" or reassigned in March 2018 in a controversial 5-0 move by the school board that caused sweeping administrative changes at Theuerkauf, Mistral and Landels elementaries and Graham Middle School. Moving Santiago to assistant principal of Graham was a demotion and a direct result of his handling of the complaints against Rios, according to the suit.

Santiago submitted a "summative evaluation" of Flowers-Haywood on May 24, determining that she did not to meet the district's standards, and her employment with the district was terminated on June 1, according to the suit. She was reportedly the only temporary teacher at Theuerkauf Elementary who lost her job that year.

The district did not investigate whether Santiago's actions amounted to discrimination or retaliation, according to her complaint.

White said Flowers-Haywood's case is a situation where the district received reports of sexual harassment and complaints of a hostile work environment but failed to fully investigate it or take action, exposing her client to "unconscionable behavior." By making repeated reports, Flowers-Haywood was doing the right thing in untenable circumstances, and the district's answer was to fire her. Rios was also teaching first-grade students at the time, White said, making it all the more important to take complaints of harassment and aggressive behavior seriously.

"Ms. Flowers-Haywood was an excellent employee, she was respected by her colleagues and I think that the facts are going to show that the district's true motivation was to get rid of somebody who was exposing the district's complete failure to take seriously complaints of sexual harassment and workplace violence," she said.

The lawsuit alleges that the district violated state laws barring retaliation against employees and was negligent in its duty to investigate or prevent harassment, discrimination and retaliation that resulted in an "unreasonable risk" caused by Rios. The complaint is seeking damages including lost earnings and bonuses in addition to suffering from emotional distress, shock, embarrassment and other damages to be proven in court.

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16 people like this
Posted by Augie
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on May 20, 2019 at 12:27 pm

She may have been a good teacher or a bad teacher so who knows if she should have been let go. But the district should have investigated her allegations. Santiago got demoted but did anyone else know? Ghysels?
Web Link

16 people like this
Posted by Just the facts
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 20, 2019 at 3:52 pm

I know parents whose kids had Rios as their teacher and there were no complaints, kids loved him, there are no allegations he did anything to the kids ever.
I have met Jane Doe is and she strikes me as a highly impressionable person. Think about the girl in the movie Atonement.
I have heard re: Haywood that there was questionable behavior on her part related to teaching practices.
Finally, I know Mr Santiago and he is a highly ethical man. He may have been reluctant to address Rios’ questionable behavior with adult women because there wasn’t enough evidence, but acting in retaliation is just not something he would do.

25 people like this
Posted by Chickens Coming Home to Roost
a resident of Jackson Park
on May 20, 2019 at 7:30 pm

How can the district office investigate discrimination, retaliation and harassment when it's led by people like Gyhsels who is a master at retaliation and harassment and unethical activity all backed up by Rudolph. I mean seriously? Who are we kidding here? And the school board is equally complicit for just lapping it all up/

12 people like this
Posted by Reputations at stake
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2019 at 8:31 pm

I have know Mr. Santiago for a very long time. I was part of the hiring team when he was hired, taught along side him for many years and attended graduate school with him. To suggest that he would fire someone to cover up or protect a violent teacher does not sound like the ethical, calm, level headed, church going, devoted family man, I worked with. I am deeply saddened to hear of the toxic work environment that some teachers found Theuerkauf to be. During my time there I was nurtured, supported and valued. I hope that teachers there still feel that way!

10 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 20, 2019 at 8:53 pm

Odd comment by someone who claims to know the parents of one first-grader who did not complain about Rios and, on that basis, states "kids loved him and there are no allegations he did anything to the kids ever." What? The same poster refers to a "Jane Doe" who complained about Rios as "highly impressionable." I see online at the Superior Court ("smart search") a 2017 harassment case by another woman against Rios. I wonder where he is now? Perhaps posting on this very article.

6 people like this
Posted by Just the facts
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 20, 2019 at 9:07 pm

I don’t know anything about Rios’ personal life. I know there was a lawsuit but he wasn’t found guilty was he?
But I know more than one parent of his students of different years. No allegations of anything bad.
And no, I am not anyone mentioned in that article :)

8 people like this
Posted by MV dweller
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 20, 2019 at 10:29 pm

@reputations... "I was part of the hiring team" ding ding. Ignore the rest. This person will never admit something bad happened because of who they hired. No hiring manager ever wants to admit to a screw up like this. They may even be correct, but the opinion is biased.

6 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 21, 2019 at 11:56 am

"Just the facts" knows "more than one" parent of a (first-grade) student of Rios. On that basis, he (or she) knows "there was no allegation of anything bad" done to his students. And then, the poster says he (or she) somehow knows about some other lawsuit but posts "he wasn't found guilty, was he"? And the poster draws the distinction between activities at school and the "personal life" of Rios. The poster knows too much and has an odd point of view. Thank goodness he (or she) is not working for the MV-Whisman school district anymore (if the case). Someone should figure out where Mr. Rios and "Just the facts" is or are working now.

15 people like this
Posted by David B. Karpf, MD
a resident of North Whisman
on May 21, 2019 at 2:43 pm

@Just the Facts and @Reputations at Stake,

Anonymous posts supporting the alleged perpetrator of the sexual harassment and the principal who fired the victim who complained are worthless. You could both be different handles for Bryan Rios or Mr. Santiago for all anyone knows.

16 people like this
Posted by These things are not the same
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 21, 2019 at 2:43 pm

These things are not the same is a registered user.

Rios wasn't found "not guilty" rather the DA decided not to take the case to trial. The reasons are not known. It could be those involved refused to testify or they didn't have enough evidence. Who knows? But it doesn't mean he was found "not guilty".

Just because Rios was well liked by first graders or their parents isn't really relevant to this case.

Just wanted to stick to the facts...

16 people like this
Posted by Mtn View Mama
a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 22, 2019 at 6:20 am

Mtn View Mama is a registered user.

The district is infamous for “sweeping it under the rug.” I worked for the district during the Craig Goldman and Karen Robinson reign, and I reported a much less serious incident to them. Karen took the evidence I had, told me that Craig had friends in MVPD, and she was going to ask Craig to have the PD investigate. She told me he “owed her one” and she was going to cash in for this situation. I never heard more about it, and never saw my evidence again. I could have gone to the MVPD myself, but they took my evidence and left me with only speculation. The point is, the district would rather “make it go away” than deal with any potential serious allegations against employees. I’ve seen it first hand.

9 people like this
Posted by countryroad
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on May 27, 2019 at 1:23 pm

countryroad is a registered user.

I cannot understand why the district was, either purposeful or negligent in dismissing this teacher for performance. If someone says they are being harassed, how could they perform effectively in their job with so much stress?
The dismissal would not have been legal. Someone needs to start telling the District and the Board to start doing the right thing.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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