SMMUSD HDQTRS — The former Malibu High School student who says she was slapped at least four times across the face by her English teacher for failing to bring homework to class has filed a civil lawsuit against the teacher, the former principal and the school district.
The complaint, filed Sept. 17 in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims the teacher, Jennifer Gonzalez, “is known at Malibu High as having an explosive temper and for being physically violent with her students.”
On May 22, 2012, she allegedly approached Dionne Evans, the only African-American student in class, and asked her to produce an assignment; specifically a binder. When Evans said she had left it at home, Gonzalez, who is still teaching at the high school, allegedly said, “You probably don’t even have a binder,” and told Evans that she needed to “get her life together” and “straighten up.”
She then allegedly asked Evans if she had seen the movie “Bridesmaids” and then slapped Evans hard several times across the face. She then went back to teaching the class.
In a scene from the movie, one character literally tries to slap some sense into another. To view the scene, go to www.youtube.com and search for “Bridesmaids Annie and Megan’s talk part 1.”
Evans was humiliated and embarrassed and wanted to cry and run out of the room, according to the complaint.
Evans has since transferred to another school and is in therapy, her attorney, Donald Karpel, said.
Evans is suing for unspecified damages.
Evans’ family filed a claim for damages with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District for just over $1 million, a claim that was rejected by the district in June.
An investigation into the alleged assault was conducted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Victims Unit. No criminal charges have been filed.
District officials do not comment on pending litigation.
The attorney for Gonzalez said the charges against his client are baseless and deflect attention away from Evans’ “scholastic neglect.”
“Jennifer Gonzalez has been a successful teacher in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District for many years,” said attorney Daniel Kolodziej. “Ms. Gonzalez did not strike or slap Ms. Evans, or cause her any harm.”
He went on to say that Evans wasn’t the only student to forget their binder, which constituted a substantial percentage of the final grade in the glass and that Gonzalez spoke with several students individual about not slacking off towards the end of the school year.
“This matter has been investigated thoroughly by the school district and area law enforcement,” Kolodziej said. “Both the district and law enforcement have responded appropriately to the actual events in this case. Ms. Gonzalez remains where she belongs — in her classroom — and looks forward to many more years serving the public as an inspired and passionate educator.”
The lawsuit claims Gonzalez apologized to Evans and her family after the alleged slapping incident and wrote a letter to Evans saying that she was only trying to get Evans motivated and focused on her schoolwork. A letter that appears to be signed by Gonzalez was included in the complaint.
Karpel said Gonzalez assaulted his client, caused her physical and emotional harm and violated her civil rights. He also said the school district and former Principal Mark Kelly failed to properly supervise or reprimand Gonzalez.
Karpel said Kelly and school district officials should have been more diligent in supervising Gonzalez because she has a history of losing her temper.
“This is much bigger than just one isolated incident that they would like us to wash over,” Karpel said.
The complaint references one alleged assault in 1996 in which a male student said Gonzalez threw a large bottle of soda at his genitals, causing great pain. The former student, identified in court records as Andre Lewandowski, claims Gonzalez said, “I hope you never have babies.”
Lewandowski told his father about the incident, who then reported it to the principal at the time, Mike Matthews, but no action was taken, according to the complaint.
Lewandowski left Malibu High following the alleged assault and finished his schooling at a private institution, even though he continued to live in Malibu. He is a current resident of Malibu and is still traumatized by the event 16 years later, according to the complaint.
Karpel said Lewandowski is prepared to testify.
Kolodziej said Lewandowski exaggerated what occurred and is only looking for financial gain. He said Lewandowski blurted out several profanities and sexually-explicit language while in class, causing Gonzalez to drop her soda in his lap out of shock at what she heard.
When Lewandowski’s parents spoke with her and school officials and learned the reason, they declined to pursue any complaint, Kolodziej said.
Gonzalez is considering filing her own lawsuit against Evans and Lewandowski for defamation.
“The parents here are looking at dollar signs instead of focusing on their daughter’s grades,” Kolodziej said. “It’s just plain sad and wrong.”