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Anti-SLAPP Motion Fails in Beverly Hills

LOS ANGELES (CN) - A federal judge denied a Beverly Hills school board member's anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss a principal's retaliation claim against him.

Beverly Hills High School principal Carter Paysinger sued the Beverly Hills Unified School District and school board member Lewis Hall in July.

Paysinger, the first African-American principal in the high school's 80-year history, claimed he was "the victim of a malicious campaign of discrimination and retaliation" led by Hall and another board member.

Hall in October filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the state law retaliation claim. U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez denied the anti-SLAPP motion on Friday.

In his original complaint, Paysinger claimed: "Board Vice-President Dr. Brian Goldberg admitted that 'it would be easier for Mr. Paysinger if he had lighter skin,' acknowledging the blatant racism within the District."

Paysinger claimed that after he submitted four complaints to the district, the district related "false and defamatory information" about him to the L.A. Times, the Beverly Hills Courier and the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office.

The report to the DA's office included "unfounded assertions that Paysinger had a conflict of interest in running the [summer sports] Academy at BHHS," Gutierrez wrote in his 14-page order, citing Paysinger's lawsuit.

In his anti-SLAPP motion, Hall argued that any actions he may have taken were a "communicative activity protected by the anti-SLAPP statute" and that Paysinger has no evidence to back his assertions of retaliation.

But Paysinger claimed in his lawsuit that "he received a warning from Hall that his 'family would suffer professional harm and unjustified attacks and investigations if he refused to follow Mr. Hall's orders,'" Judge Gutierrez wrote, citing the original lawsuit.

Paysinger claimed he disregarded the threat but later learned that Hall had asked for and received the personnel files of Paysinger's family members who work for the school district.

Paysinger claims he filed a complaint about Hall's actions with district, and that school district staff violated confidentiality policy and gave a copy of the complaint to Hall.

He claims he filed other complaints accusing Hall of discrimination and retaliation, and that the school district notified Hall of the complaints and did little or nothing else.

Paysinger claims Hall also retaliated by voting against promotions and a contract extension for Paysinger that his white counterparts received, made racially discriminatory comments and voted to adopt a non-nepotism policy to punish Paysinger's family members who worked for the school district.

Paysinger's brother is the high school's co-athletic director and his sister-in-law is an athletic trainer, Gutierrez wrote.

Gutierrez found that Paysinger submitted copies of emails and letters from Hall to various school officials as proof of his claims of retaliation.

The judge found that Paysinger "has presented at least some facts to support ... his retaliation case" and provided proof that a month after submitting his first complaint against Hall, the school district hired a law firm to investigate Paysinger's activities at the summer sports academy.

Gutierrez ruled that Paysinger has "carried his burden of making a minimal evidentiary showing as to the factual and legal sufficiency of the claim to defeat the anti-SLAPP motion."

Paysinger did not return a call seeking comment.

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