A former assistant water polo coach at Mission Viejo High School is suing the Saddleback Valley Unified School District for wrongful termination and failing to respond to sexual harassment claims. The district denies the claims made by former coach Simone Johnson and says it has evidence of misconduct by her.
Johnson says she was fired soon after complaining to the district about Mission Viejo High head water polo coach Trevor McMunn. She says McMunn groped her, verbally harassed her in front of student athletes and made inappropriate sexual and romantic overtures.
The district counters that Johnson's claims are "frivolous, unfounded and unreasonable," and that Johnson was fired after failing to meet her obligations as a coach.
Johnson was hired June 27, 2011, as the girls assistant water polo coach. In mid-July of that year, she complained to Principal Ray Gatfield, saying McMunn was teaching unnecessarily aggressive techniques to the girls' team and talking to players in a way that made them feel uncomfortable.
In late July 2011, Johnson lodged a formal sexual harassment complaint against McMunn.
According to Johnson's lawsuit, McMunn repeatedly told her he loved her, ran his fingers through her hair, said he had an inappropriate dream about her, touched her breasts, asked her out on a date and held a water polo ball near his groin as he asked, "Will you pump it up for me?"
The district investigated McMunn and criticized him but said his behavior stopped short of sexual harassment.
"Hugging and kissing a fellow worker is inappropriate," the report said. "Coach McMunn should not be touching another colleague’s hair. I have directed Coach McMunn to stop such behavior as described above due to the overly personal nature of such gestures."
By late September 2011, Johnson and assistant coach Matt Tipton, who also complained about McMunn, were both fired. By October 2011, the district had fired McMunn as well. Tipton is also suing the SVUSD.
Johnson says the SVUSD failed to investigate her claims as a whole and instead looked into each claim separately.
In its response, the district says Johnson failed to file her lawsuit within the statute of limitations and failed to exhaust administrative remedies made available to her.
The district also says Johnson "has or had unclean hands with respect to the matters alleged in the complaint," meaning her lawsuit was filed in bad faith.
In addition, the district says it found evidence of misconduct by Johnson after firing her. It says this evidence could have been used as grounds for firing her, but didn't elaborate.
Nor did the district explain why Johnson was fired in the first place.
A phone call to SVUSD attorney Jeff Thompson on Thursday afternoon was not immediately returned.
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