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Trustee's Claim for Psychological Stress Rejected by Judge

November 27, 1986|WILLIAM NOTTINGHAM | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — An administrative judge has roundly rejected an unprecedented workers compensation claim that Compton schools Trustee Bernice Woods was psychologically disabled by stress from her disputes with Supt. Ted D. Kimbrough.

Describing the case as "one of the most bizarre" to ever come before a state workers compensation court, Judge Maurice J. Carey ruled that Woods' "stormy relationship" with the administrator she once helped appoint was merely part of school board politics.

"Under these circumstances," Carey wrote, "Harry Truman's famous adage of 'if you don't like the heat, then leave the kitchen' amply applies."

However, for injuries Woods suffered in a 1984 fall on school property, the judge awarded her $30,327.50, to be paid in weekly installments of $70, plus a life pension of $26.65 each week thereafter.

'Very Appropriate'

Neither Woods nor her attorney, Lawrence Gross, could be reached for comment Wednesday.

Kimbrough applauded the judge's decision as "very appropriate." He had long contended that Woods brought the charge simply because she disliked his administrative decisions.

"My own opinion is that she's no worse off than the first day I met her," the superintendent said. "I don't have time to deal in petty personality conflicts and in my estimation that's what it is."

Kimbrough said it would be up to the district's seven elected trustees--one of whom is Woods--to decide if the state Workers Compensation Appeals Board in San Francisco should be asked to reduce the financial award that Carey granted. Both sides in the case have 25 days to seek an appeal, after which the five state commissioners have 60 days to conduct the review. If either party is dissatisfied after that, a lawsuit can be filed.

But Kimbrough said "the public benefits" from the judge's opinion as to Woods' stress claim, which threatened to set a precedent that could have touched the 1,073 other school boards in California, many of which have members who do not always get along with their appointed superintendents.

'Hope This Is the End'

Trustee John Steward, who has sided with Woods in many of her disputes with Kimbrough and even testified in the acrimonious case, had a mixed reaction to the judge's ruling: "I'm not happy with it, I'm not unhappy with it. I just hope this is the end of it. I don't see any winners or losers."

The injuries to Woods' lower back, right leg and head occurred when she tumbled down three or four steps upon leaving the Compton Unified School District board room on March 27, 1984. She filed a compensation claim in 1985, but amended it last June to include a general charge that Kimbrough had been harassing her and applying stress that compounded her suffering.

Carey ruled that Woods, indeed, was psychologically depressed by her injuries. "Nevertheless, since (Woods) continues her duties as a school board trustee without evident handicap and seems to be able to give as much emotional trauma as she receives, no permanent disability will be awarded" on the stress claim.

"We have merely a situation where an industrial stress has caused or aggravated a mental disorder which only temporarily required treatment," the judge wrote. "At no time did (Woods) cease her duties with the school board or her community activities, or otherwise lose time from work or income.

Misleading Resume Alleged

"In addition, she intends to run again for reelection (next year). Hopefully, she will have to run on her record and not her resume."

During the claim hearings, district lawyers argued that Woods, a trustee since 1975, had issued a misleading resume that made it appear she had academic credentials that cannot be confirmed.

Carey agreed with Woods that Kimbrough had been "insensitive" when he once moved her district office after only an hour's notice. But he also agreed with Kimbrough's contention that the move was necessary. The judge went on to reject every other charge that Woods had made against Kimbrough in her effort to prove that he was deliberately inflicting stress upon her.

The judge said fellow Trustee Mary B. Henry appears to have a hostile relationship with Woods "as borne out by the almost berserk outburst of hatred" she delivered when testifying in the case. Henry called Woods a "pathological liar" among other things, but the judge had those remarks stricken from the record.

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