If you're viewing on the ABC10 App, tap here for multimedia.
Two former custodians with the Stanislaus Union School District in Modesto say they were sexually harassed and had to put up with sexual misconduct by their school's female principal during their time working at Mary Lou Dietrich Elementary.
Alfredo Pinon, 46, and Bobin Lal, 39, filed dual lawsuits against the district in 2016, claiming whistleblower retaliation, discrimination, and sexual harassment. They have now decided to publicly share their story, saying they were inspired by the #MeToo movement.
"People should know things like this does happen at the school district level, too," Lal said in an exclusive interview with ABC10. "Things like that happen to guys. And it's horrible."
Pinon and Lal’s lawsuits state that principal Annette Roberts-Murray made “inappropriate sexual comments” in front of them on a regular basis and subjected them “to unwelcome touching.”
That harassment, the lawsuits state, caused them “severe emotional distress” for which they had to seek psychiatric treatment.
“It has ruined my quality of life,” Lal, who was put on anxiety medications, said. “My sexual relationship with my girlfriend at the time — I don’t even have one no more — because I have a hard time dealing with just certain things because of what happened.”
Lal and Pinon said they reported the behavior to their direct supervisor and filed several grievances with the district, even asking to be transferred to a different site. That never happened and they say no other action was ever taken.
“I even told my supervisor…she’s touching me. I don’t know what she’s trying to do,” Lal said, about Murray. “He’d say good luck to you guys. You’re on your own.”
This was not the first time Pinon and Lal had spoken to the school district about an issue in their workplace. The previous year, they had reported the school to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after the district began using thermo-compactor machines that melted and compressed Styrofoam lunch trays, which Pinon and Lal say gave off fumes that made them feel sick.
They asked for respiratory masks, but were never given them. The district was fined $750, and Lal and Pinon say they felt targeted ever since by bad evaluations and wrongful write-ups.
In 2016, Pinon was let go. The next year, in 2017, so was Lal.
"Clearly it's our allegation that that was the continuation of the retaliation," their Sacramento-based attorney Robert Biegler told ABC10. "They were looking for a reason to get rid of them and they did."
Reached by phone, Annette Roberts-Murray, who no longer works in the Stanislaus Union School District, declined to comment on Bobin and Lal's accusations.
The Stanislaus Union School District declined to be interviewed for the story, citing pending litigation, but their attorney gave a statement saying the lawsuits filed by Pinon and Lal have "no merit" and "are simply costing the public and Stanislaus Union School District unnecessary legal fees and time."
"The District has consistently attempted to pursue these cases to a conclusion only to have the plaintiffs’ attorney engage in delay tactics, which have been compounded by substandard responses to the District’s discovery requests to the plaintiffs," the statement continued. "Furthermore, the District is concerned the plaintiffs are attempting to improperly use the press to advance questionable claims."
Bobin and Lal, however, say they were good employees who always had positive evaluations until the incidents they described. Loren York, a former principal at Mary Lou Dietrich Elementary who went on to be a superintendent at a school district in Chowchilla, California, backed up their claims.
"I couldn't have had a better crew for daytime and nighttime," York told ABC10 over the phone, recalling the years they were his employees. "They were just so good to people, whether parents, kids, administrators...Bobin and Alfredo were great."
Lal and Pinon said they still feel the effects of what they experienced. They say they both continue to suffer anxiety and depression and both have had trouble finding jobs. Lal was recently able to find a custodian job at a school in the Bay Area, but he now has a long commute from his home in Modesto. Pinon is still unemployed and looking for work.
Even so, they said they were inspired by the recent "Me Too" movement and hoped sharing their story could help others.
"We knew by Hollywood, politics and now school district level, everyone needs to just step up talk about it," Pinon said. "Hopefully we can make a difference. I don’t know what this is going to do, but all I know is this is our time."
Continue the conversation with Liz on Facebook.