Patten v. Grant Joint Union High School Dist., 134 Cal. App. 4th 1378 (2005)

Colleen Patten, a junior high school principal, “blew the whistle” concerning four “legal violations” that she believed had occurred at her school. After she complained, Patten was notified that she was being transferred to a smaller junior high school for the 2002-03 academic year. Patten’s illness with mononucleosis initially prevented her from returning to work during the summer and early fall months of 2002. Eventually, she claimed in October 2002 that she had been forced to quit her job based on the school district’s retaliatory conduct toward her in violation of Labor Code § 1102.5 (the “whistleblower” statute). The Court of Appeal reversed the summary judgment that had been granted in favor of the school district after determining that Patten had engaged in protected activity when she disclosed to legislative personnel her concerns about the school’s alleged unauthorized use of public assets. However, the Court agreed with the trial court that the other matters about which Patten had complained were nothing more than internal personnel matters that did not rise to the level of a legal violation on the part of the district. The Court further held that Patten may have suffered “adverse employment action” when the school district transferred her from an “underperforming school… requiring immediate intervention” to a smaller magnet school where she would not be able to “make her mark” as readily.