Accused sexual harasser Dominic Caserta reportedly plans to sue his former employers at the Santa Clara Unified School District and the city of Santa Clara to the tune of $38 million for besmirching his good name.
The 43-year-old Santa Clara High teacher, who resigned from the City Council last spring just a week after this news outlet exposed his long record of impropriety, submitted separate claims to the school district and city in late October and early November, respectively, laying the groundwork for litigation. He has until April—that is, six months from when he submitted the claims—to file the lawsuits.
Caserta has been on paid leave from the classroom since then while attorney Patricia Elliot investigates numerous claims of misconduct on behalf of the school district. Foothill College, where he taught civics, is conducting a similar probe since one of the main accusers, Lydia Jungkind, was one of his students there.
Caserta was among the leading candidates for Santa Clara County supervisor when a pair of young campaign staffers—Jungkind, then 19, and Ian Crueldad, then 25—openly accused him of walking around shirtless in front of teenaged volunteers, offering them drugs and alcohol, bullying and, at worst, sexual battery. That same week in early May, the school district inadvertently leaked parts of Caserta’s checkered personnel file to more than a thousand employees.
The allegations unearthed by Metro/San Jose Inside prompted Caserta to suspend his campaign and resign from the council. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office interviewed accusers for several weeks, but ultimately decided against filing charges.
In a claim filed Nov. 2 against the city, Caserta blames Mayor Lisa Gillmor for causing him emotional distress and sullying his reputation by being one of the first public officials to call for his resignation. She was far from the only one. Caserta lost virtually all of his key endorsements in the wake of the allegations.
“Claimant was forced to resign from the City Council, has been publicly and purposefully humiliated, has been suspended from work by SCUSD, suffered severe damage to reputation, and has suffered extreme emotional distress and depression,” according to his complaint, which names Gillmor as someone who “contributed to the harm.”
Caserta’s claim against SCUSD asserts that the agency caused him irreparable harm by releasing his confidential disciplinary records to all 1,600 of its employees. He specifically names administrative assistant Nora Dipko as the one who released his private records, which were intended only for outside counsel to see. He also cites an employee named Gina Perez for contributing to his “personal tragedy.”
“As a result of this mass email to coworkers and its distribution to many others, I have been subject to public ridicule, have suffered irreparable harm to my reputation, my career and my ability to obtain appropriate future employment,” Caserta wrote.
He also cited the psychological impact of having his misconduct exposed. “As a result,” he claimed of the leak, “I am also suffering severe emotional distress and depression.”
Many of Caserta’s accusers say his actions took a psychological toll on them, too, and that SCUSD’s repeated decisions to keep him in the classroom despite sustained allegations of sexual harassment enabled him to victimize teen girls for nearly two decades.
One woman sexually harassed by Caserta when he was her high school civics teacher in the early 2000s, according to SCUSD records, said the mental scars remain to this day and have negatively impacted relationships in her adult life. Another of his former pupils, Savannah Nunez, said Caserta bullied and stalked her when she was an academically struggling teenager, and that it took years for her to only begin recovering from the anxiety he inflicted. Others have had to undergo therapy because of his behavior.
Both of the complaints filed by Caserta list the damages as exceeding $10,000—the minimum amount he’s legally required to state on the form. But sources say he plans to claim tens of millions more when he brings the cases to court.
SCUSD and the city each rejected the claims.
Caserta is represented by the law firm of John Mlnarik, who was just suspended from practicing law because he wrongfully billed clients. When the sexual misconduct allegations first came to light last spring, the disgraced councilman paid Mlnarik $40,000 from campaign coffers to help craft a formal denial.
Incidentally, state policymakers are now considering a bill that would prohibit candidates from using campaign cash and legal defense funds for costs related to sexual harassment claims. SB 71, introduced by state Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino) and sponsored by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC), would also prevent candidates from spending it on legal costs associated with other violations of employment laws.
Leyva authored the bill in response to the FPPC rescinding an advice letter last year to then-state Sen. Tony Mendoza, allowing him to use legal defense and campaign funds to respond to claims of sexual harassment. Leyva said that made it clear that the law needed to be clarified to prevent future electeds and candidates from using political funds to fight sexual misconduct or similar employment-related claims.
“SB 71 will ensure that elected officials accused of sexual harassment or discrimination are not able to use campaign or legal defense funds as deep pools of money to defend themselves in cases related to this terrible behavior,” Leyva said in a news release. “These funds are certainly not intended to help elected officials or candidates avoid personally facing the financial consequences of their alleged actions in hurting another person. ... It is critical that California continues to stand with survivors, who must oftentimes endure significant public criticism after their allegations are made public.”