Steve Carell may have said goodbye to The Office, but if allegations by former third-grade teacher Anthony Juarez are true, Carell's overstepping, inappropriate character is alive and well in the guise of Catholic elementary school principal Annie Delgado.
Two months into Juarez's new gig at Boyle Heights K-through-8 school Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa, the staff traveled to a San Francisco conference hosted by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, which helps fund the school.
When Delgado texted Juarez to ask when he'd be arriving at the hotel, he wrote back that he would be “coming soon.”
“That's what she said,” Delgado allegedly replied.
Seeing a sexual double entendre (made a catchphrase by The Office) from the Catholic school principal “weirded me out,” Juarez tells L.A. Weekly.
Now the former Our Lady of the Rosary of Talpa teacher is suing St. Vincent and the L.A. Roman Catholic Archdiocese, claiming Delgado's message kicked off a campaign of female-on-male sexual harassment and discrimination that only ended when his complaints got him fired.
Tod Tamberg, the archdiocese's media relations director, calls the lawsuit preposterous.
“Take it away from the Catholic Church and you guys wouldn't be writing this,” Tamberg says. “Because it's a Catholic Church school, L.A. Weekly is reading this like kindergartners reading the story of Santa Claus.”
But in another instance, allegedly involving teacher Juanita Cota, Juarez says a couple of first- and second-graders can back him up. According to Juarez, the students were outside the teacher's lounge last December when Cota spotted him coming out of a nearby bathroom after changing into his basketball coaching shorts.
“She said my butt looked good in my shorts,” says Juarez, a 29-year-old product of the L.A. Archdiocese's sprawling 95,000-student Catholic school system, who went on to earn a bachelor's in psychology from Cal State Northridge and a master's in educational foundations from Cal State L.A.
Juarez says Cota, who has taught at the school for 30 years, spoke loudly so that the students and another teacher in the hall could hear. “She started to fan her face, and she said, 'God, you're making me hot.' ”
“They were laughing, laughing, laughing,” he says of the teachers.
Our Lady of Talpa isn't the sort of place you'd expect to find an environment Juarez describes as “sexually charged.”
The 60-year-old Boyle Heights school sits between mom-and-pop stores with painted Spanish signs and weathered but tidy homes with low chain-link fences, scrappy dogs and statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. On Sundays, men in button-up shirts and women in dresses stream into the adjacent church while teenage boys kick soccer balls across a nearby field.
Residents are proud of the neighborhood. Elaborate murals are everywhere, untouched by graffiti. Across the street from the school, an eel and an octopus swim around a 7-foot-tall Lady of Talpa painted on the side of a seafood restaurant.
Sam Robles, who graduated from Talpa in 1998, says some local families have been sending their kids to the school for generations. “It definitely has a legacy,” Robles says. “A lot of people who went to the school in the '50s and '60s have made it a point to send their kids there when they were of age.” And Talpa has a way of drawing its students back; five alumnae now teach there, according to a recent school newsletter.
But Juarez says that legacy is being threatened by an abusive girls' club.
At daily teacher lunches he was required to attend, Juarez alleges his female co-workers compared men to dogs and said they could be trained easily. He says they mocked him for his poor Spanish, calling him a pocho.
“It's a coconut. An Oreo. A banana,” Juarez explains. “It's derogatory. It means you're not part of your race.”
Between her talk of menopause and hot flashes, he says, veteran teacher Cota called him “rich boy, rich boy” in a sing-song voice after she learned he grew up in Montebello. Second-grade teacher Desiree Rios angrily slapped the back of his head on three occasions, he says. He says that fourth-grade teacher Erica Romero asked him how her breasts looked and inquired if he was “going to make sperm pancakes with [his] sperm” that weekend.
“That's when you smush bellies together and your sperm gets caught in their belly button and you make, like, a pancake,” Juarez claims Romero joked to him.
Juarez says Principal Delgado took no action after he complained during a February meeting. Then, in April, Delgado told him his teaching contract would not be renewed. When Juarez asked why, he says, Delgado told him only that he left too many papers on his classroom floor, and that he was “not Vincentian enough,” a reference to the school's spiritual credo.
At a May 9 meeting, the vice principal suggested he face the women he was accusing. The meeting's other participants didn't respond to emailed requests to be interviewed by L.A. Weekly. Juarez says each female teacher was called in, and each apologized to him, save Rios.
“Desiree never apologized for slapping me. She said I deserved it,” Juarez recalls. “She said, 'That's what you get.' ”
Instead of punishing the women, Juarez alleges, Delgado “told me if you were quiet, you'd probably still be here at work. She said you need to learn to not say anything.”
Delgado placed him on administrative leave the next day, Juarez says, ending his career at Talpa.
The diocese disputes this account, saying Juarez was placed on administrative leave after he “reacted inappropriately” to the news that his contract would not be renewed.
Female-on-male workplace sexual harassment is uncommon. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says male victims accounted for only about 16 percent of sexual harassment complaints filed with the agency in 2010. That includes allegations of harassment by another male, which attorney Matthew Matern says are more common.
Matern, who has handled hundreds of harassment suits as a partner at Torrance employment law firm Rastegar & Matern, estimates that cases of women sexually harassing men are “probably one in almost 100.”
Victims may face skepticism. Juarez's lawyer, Arnold Peter, says third parties often think the victim should be flattered.
“It's ironic because that's how women were first treated … before we had antidiscrimination and harassment laws,” Peter says.
In 2007, Nevada District Court Judge Kent Dawson threw out a sexual harassment case brought on behalf of a male airport attendant who received repeated, unwanted propositions from a female co-worker. Dawson pointed to the victim's admission that “most men in his circumstances would have welcomed the behavior … but that due to his Christian background, he was embarrassed.”
In September, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision.
L.A. Archdiocese spokesman Tamberg says Juarez never complained to Delgado and only came forward after he learned he was not being rehired. “That throws all of these allegations into a very suspicious light,” Tamberg says. He refused to discuss the reasons Juarez was not rehired.
But Juarez says he has physical evidence, including Delgado's text messages, a suggestive voice mail and Facebook messages from some of the teachers involved.
Juarez's lawyer calls the archdiocese's denial “a whitewash and a cover-up.”
In the end, it may be up to the courts to sort through what happened at Talpa and decide whether Juarez was sexually harassed by a grade-school teacher girls' club.
One thing is certain: When Our Lady of Talpa resumes classes in August, Anthony Juarez won't be at the chalkboard.
A female teacher has been hired to replace him.