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VENTURA COUNTY

Counselors' Suspensions Reversed

Court: Ruling backs four Ventura College advisors whom the chancellor accused of bias.

October 03, 2002|AMANDA COVARRUBIAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An administrative law judge has overturned the suspensions of four Ventura College counselors who had been accused by Chancellor Philip Westin of discriminating against one of their peers.

Judge Samuel Reyes ruled Tuesday that counselors Paula Munoz, Tim Suel, Marian Carrasco and Beatriz Herrera did nothing wrong and ordered the district to reimburse them for lost salary and benefits.

The decision marks another defeat for Westin, who was placed on paid administrative leave in July while the Ventura County Community College District board of trustees investigates allegations that he misspent district money.

The district has spent more than $500,000 on legal claims, lawsuits and grievances related to the counselors' suspensions.

Westin suspended the four last year because he said they discriminated against counselor Guadalupe Guillen, who was seeking tenure. Herrera was suspended for two weeks, Carrasco for four months, Suel for eight months and Munoz for one year.

Reached at home Wednesday, Westin declined to comment.

In his 34-page decision, Reyes wrote that the "district has not established that respondents ... were motivated by any discriminatory or improper considerations in their decision to deny her [Guillen] tenure. The conduct of respondents ... as established at the hearing did not involve hostility."

Munoz, who has since taken a job at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, said the past year has been difficult.

"I don't know how I feel," she said. "I'm kind of numb. The charges were trumped up and there was no truth to any of that. It's been a very painful and anxiety-producing thing we've been going through."

She said the matter isn't over for her because she has a civil lawsuit pending against the district in Ventura County Superior Court, as well as a complaint with a different administrative law judge in an effort to win back her previous job as director of the Extended Opportunity Program and Services at Ventura College, a position she held until Westin demoted her in 2000.

"I feel like I was wronged and I need to return to Ventura College," Munoz said.

The counselors face a possibility the district will appeal Reyes' decision. Acting Chancellor Jim Walker said Wednesday it will be up to the trustees to decide if they want to appeal. They are expected to review the matter Oct. 22.

Westin suspended the counselors and secretary Laura Hilton after a lengthy investigation into allegations they had discriminated against Guillen. Hilton's suspension was overturned last month.

The counselors appealed their suspension in a three-week trial over the summer. Their attorneys argued they were punished for expressing their opinions on Guillen's performance, and they contended Ventura College President Larry Calderon was retaliating against Munoz over a soured personal relationship. Calderon has denied the allegation.

"Anyone who stood up to Westin, he went after them," said Gregory Ramirez, Munoz's attorney. "Westin had a campaign of terror at Ventura College, and I hope it stops now--and that the trustees will stop the hemorrhaging of public money paid to attorneys. Hopefully, the district will let it go now."

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