Terminated PSS chief sues

Says firing was retaliation for refusing unlawful transfer of $175K, among others

Cynthia Deleon Guerrero

The former education commissioner, Cynthia I. Deleon Guerrero, is suing the Board of Education and its members for terminating her last October. She alleges that her termination was in retaliation after she questioned the board’s micromanagement and for her refusal to request for an unlawful transfer of $175,000 of PSS funds to the board’s account.

Deleon Guerrero, through counsel Brien Sers Nicholas, is suing BOE before the Superior Court for wrongful termination and breach of contract.

In suing BOE chair MaryLou S. Ada, vice chair Janice A. Tenorio, secretary/treasurer Herman M. Atalig, member Herman T. Guerrero, and member Florine M. Hofschneider in their individual capacities, Deleon Guerrero claims violations of her Fifth and 14th Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution.

Deleon Guerrero wants the BOE held liable to pay her $350,000 in compensatory damages, and Ada, Tenorio, Atalig, Guerrero, and Hofschneider for compensatory and punitive damages.

As of press time yesterday, Saipan Tribune was still waiting for comments from Ada and the BOE.

The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday.

The BOE employed Deleon Guerrero as commissioner of the Public School System four years, from November 2016 to November 2020.

Nicholas said that on Oct. 30, 2017, the BOE voted to terminate Deleon Guerrero’s contract “without cause.”

Nicholas said the defendants, in an attempt to justify the purported termination, made a public statement that Deleon Guerrero was terminated because she was not getting along with them.

Yet Deleon Guerrero alleges that her termination was in retaliation for her calling out and questioning the defendants in their micromanagement of PSS, Nicholas said.

The lawyer said it was also in retaliation for Deleon Guerrero’s refusal to consent to the BOE members’ continued requests for funding from PSS because the board members had exhausted all of their budget for fiscal year 2016 to 2017.

Nicholas said that almost immediately upon being hired, the board asked Deleon Guerrero to remove certain “key management officials” from PSS, which Deleon Guerrero refused to do.

The lawyer said Deleon Guerrero also questioned why certain travel authorizations for PSS employees needing to travel off-island were being denied for no reason at all by the defendants.

He said the defendants made attempts to replace those employees being recommended by Deleon Guerrero for off-island travel with employees not qualified to take such travels.

Nicholas said the defendants were able to reorganize the positions of legal counsels hired by PSS by removing them from BOE as employees.

He said this left PSS and Deleon Guerrero without any legal assistance.

The lawyer said the defendants attempted to have Deleon Guerrero fund the legal counsel positions with PSS funds, which she refused.

On another occasion, Nicholas said, the defendants demanded that Deleon Guerrero transfer $175,000 in PSS funds to a BOE account because defendants had exhausted their allotted budget for fiscal year 2016-17. He said Deleon Guerrero again refused to do so as it was her understanding that this was against the law.

“The amount of hostilities toward [Deleon Guerrero] by the defendants only grew as time went on and was displayed most prominently at private and public meetings which the defendants called, with plaintiff being berated and harassed in front of others and the individual defendants themselves,” Nicholas said.

He said Deleon Guerrero wrote a letter of complaint last Oct. 6 that addressed her concerns about the hostilities toward her. No response was ever received from the defendants about this.

Deleon Guerrero received notice about her termination in an email she got upon her arrival in Honolulu, Hawaii for a Head Start conference last Oct. 30.

Nicholas said the defendants did not give Deleon Guerrero an opportunity to be heard regarding her evaluation and, more importantly, the termination of her contract.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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