Mary Dowell

Mary Dowell Partner

With almost 40 years of experience in labor, employment, and education law, Mary Dowell has assisted clients in a myriad of employment and education-related issues.  Her primary area of expertise is representing and advising community college districts in a general counsel role, specifically in education, labor and employment-related matters.

In the course of her law practice, Mary has tried cases before state and federal trial and appellate courts, PERB, and various state and federal administrative agencies. She has represented clients in cases involving labor relations, employment discrimination and employee discipline, as well as in cases involving education law, free speech rights, student issues, and general public agency property and business issues.  She has particularly concentrated on representing school and community college districts in regard to issues as diverse as the process used to close a school, the right to offer adult education, international education issues, "distance learning," student discipline and other student-related legal matters, a variety of crucial constitutional issues and personnel procedures including faculty discipline and terminations.

Prior to joining Liebert Cassidy Whitmore in 1987, Mary served as General Counsel for the Los Angeles Community College District. In that capacity, she facilitated the first successful assertion in the federal courts of Eleventh Amendment immunity for schools and colleges accused of civil rights violations, which provides a critical shield for cash-strapped public entities. At the beginning of her career, Mary worked with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), and was later involved in statewide task forces on early implementation of the Educational Employment Relations Act and on revisions to the Education Code regarding community colleges.  Currently she provides updated model policies and procedures on behalf of the Community College League of California.

She has reviewed many real estate documents, has drafted and/or reviewed leases and lease-purchase agreements (both ground leases and building leases), advised on Field Act issues, reviewed joint use and joint occupancy agreements, and drafted agreements between agencies under Education Code Section 17485. She has also assisted in the development of Joint Powers Authorities. She has litigated the right of districts to declare themselves exempt from local zoning ordinances.

Mary is also an expert teacher. Early in her career, she worked as an adjunct faculty member in the Pepperdine University community college doctoral program.  She has lectured before various professional organizations for many years. She frequently presents workshops on employment and education law subjects. 

Professional and Community Involvement

From 2010-2014 she served as the Corporate Member on the Board of Directors for the Association of California Community College Administrators.


Mary has been selected as a Southern California Super Lawyer and was named one of the Daily Journal's Top 75 Women Litigators in 2011. She been recognized many times by advocacy groups for community colleges for her work.


  • BA, University of California, Davis

  • JD, University of California, Davis School of Law


Joshua Cunningham/Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District (2010) - In a six-day teacher termination appeal hearing, the Commission on Professional Competence upheld a teacher's termination from the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District. The District terminated the teacher, a permanent certificated employee, for making sexually inappropriate remarks on multiple occasions during his geometry classes and allowing football players to shoot firearms and use other weapons on a camping trip that he organized. The Commission on Professional Competence upheld the employee's termination under Education Code sections 44932 and 44939 for 1) immoral conduct, 2) unprofessional conduct, 3) dishonesty, 4) evident unfitness for service and 5) persistent violation of or refusal to obey the school laws of the state or reasonable regulations prescribed for the government of the public schools by the State Board of Education.

CSEA v. Rio Hondo CCD (2009) - Union brought an unfair practice charge alleging that a college made a unilateral change in working conditions when it brought in a commercial power-washing company to wash down college twice a year. The charge was dismissed after a hearing in which it was clear that there was no unilateral action. The district had a past practice of using outside contractors for power-washing and no employees lost work because of the contract.


Lopez v. Candaele (2010) - The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of trustees and officials of the Los Angeles Community College District in an appeal of a preliminary injunction order issued by the Trial Court.  The Trial Court had precluded the District, on First Amendment grounds, from enforcing a sexual harassment policy which the Plaintiff, a student at the District, claimed chilled his expression of religious views on campus.  The Ninth Circuit issued a published decision ruling that the preliminary injunction was improper because the Plaintiff lacked standing under Article III of the U.S. Constitution to challenge the policy.

LAUSD v. Commission on Professional Competence (Matthew In Ho Kim) (2009) - Represented LAUSD in this favorable decision to overturn the decision of the Commission on Professional Competence. The Trial Court emphatically upheld the right of the District to terminate him, and the Court of Appeal agreed, but the CPC defied both courts and ordered him reinstated again. The Trial Court ruled in the District's favor a second time, and also ordered the CPC to proceed with the dismissal despite the fact that Kim had appealed again. The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court a second time, ordering that there was no need or reason to remand the case to the CPC which had previously defied the trial court.

Crosby v. South Orange Community College District (2009) - The Court of Appeal sustained a trial court ruling that a college could impose reasonable time, place and manner regulations on the use of internet access in a college library.

Franzosi v. Santa Monica Community College District (2004) - The Court of Appeal, Second District affirmed a trial court's ruling that the 39 months to request reinstatement from disability retirement under Education Code section 87789 ran from the effective date of the disability retirement, rather than the eligibility date.


Reed, et al. v. State of California (2012) - This case involves a constitutional challenge to the state law that requires strict seniority in teacher layoffs.  The parties negotiated a settlement, allowing LAUSD to skip all teachers at 45 "Targeted Schools," chosen based on low performance, high teacher turnover, and the growth in test scores over time, indicating reform efforts. The teachers union, UTLA (who we successfully brought in as a defendant), opposed the settlement because it abrogated teacher seniority rights. The judge determined the settlement was fair and legal.

Chidester, et. al. v. Rancho Santiago Community College District (2012) - This was a successful outcome of part-time employee's suit to be reclassified as a full-time contract employee.  The court ruled against the employee based the doctrine of laches. The Orange County Superior Court held that 13 years was per se an unreasonable delay in seeking relief.

Los Angeles Unified School District v. Los Angeles Unified School District Personnel Commission (2011) - The firm represented Petitioner LAUSD seeking a writ of mandate to overturn the reinstatement of an attorney named by the LAUSD Personnel Commission. LAUSD asserted that the Commission's order reinstating the lawyer to her position with LAUSD was an abuse of discretion given her admitted and repeated breaches of professional conduct. The Court found that reasonable minds could not differ that the lawyer had been warned, admonished, supervised and given opportunities for improvement in the very areas in which she failed to perform. Reinstatement, given the lawyer's history of non-performance and her continued failure to acknowledge any need to change or improve, would have exposed the public to the risk of injury and the school district to the risk of incurring liability.

Taylor v. LAUSD (2010) - Taylor was a teacher with LAUSD who was terminated for cause for unsatisfactory performance and rude conduct towards students. Melanie successfully represented the District in the underlying termination appeal hearing by Petitioner Darryl Taylor.  Subsequently, she obtained a denial from the Los Angeles County Superior Court of Taylor's writ appealing the Commission on Professional Competence's decision terminating him.

White v. Antelope Valley College (2010) - An African-American applicant for an accountant position sued the college after he was not interviewed for a job on three separate occasions.  He alleged Title VII discrimination (race and gender), age discrimination, retaliation, disparate treatment and disparate impact. We achieved a summary judgment and a complete dismissal in this case, which was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in an unpublished decision.

City of Palmdale, et al. v. Antelope Valley Community College District (2009) - Successfully represented the District in an action instituted by the City of Palmdale and a local resident seeking to invalidate the District Board's action to approve a substantial development project. The action sought invalidation based on Ralph M. Brown Act violations.


  • BA, University of California, Davis

  • JD, University of California, Davis School of Law

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