Two former County Health Department employees have filed claims against the county, claiming management unjustly retaliated against them.
Both Deanna Gunn, the department's former finance manager, and Jennifer Empasis, a former deputy public guardian, are each seeking in excess of $10,000 in claims filed March 4.
The County Board of Supervisors denied those claims March 22, meaning both former employees will likely proceed to the next legal step of filing a lawsuit against the county.
They are represented by the Visalia law firm Melo & Sarsfield, which also represents at least two other Health Department employees in actions against the county alleging unfair workplace treatment.
One is Robert Jackson, the acute and legal services manager in the Behavioral Health Department, who was placed on administrative leave almost a year ago. He alleges that was an act of retaliation for speaking up on behalf of two of his employees.
One of those employees is Devon Corpus, who spent six months on administrative leave before being allowed to return to work last October. Corpus filed a claim Oct. 1; after that was denied, she filed a lawsuit on March 8 in Monterey County Superior Court. A hearing is scheduled for July 12.
In Gunn's claim, she says she was passed over for a promotion she'd been promised, and was bullied at work.
That ranged from blonde jokes and being publicly called "stupid" to not getting an office—which other finance managers for other departments have, she claims, and which made it impossible to effectively do her job and make calls about certain confidential budget matters.
"I could not talk to any of my department heads about possible personnel impacts of budget while on the floor," she writes in her claim.
As she was made to feel less and less comfortable at work, Gunn claims she suffered from insomnia, had trouble concentrating, and was prescribed an anti-anxiety drug.
"This entire process took over two years and took 10 years off my life," according to her claim. "The stress in my life is killing me, and not slowly."
She eventually resigned on Sept. 17, 2015, at the direction of a physician, she says.
Empasis, on the other hand, was terminated from her position, which she claims was a response after she spoke up about what she viewed as an unfair policy of allowing other employees to use paid work time to do volunteer work.
One colleague attended a week-long training for the Crisis Intervention Team, while on the clock, instead of using vacation time, and Empasis says she raised a red flag.
"This caused much stress in the workplace as all the other deputies had to pick up the slack," she writes.
After she took her concern to HR, Empasis claims the retaliation began. She was penalized for duplicate entries on timesheets in a new software system, even though the software was reportedly defective.
Part of Gunn's stress came from putting in 12-hour days to conduct lengthy internal audits of those duplicate accounting entries, which make it look like county staffers were taking double credit for their time. That’s been attributed mostly to a software glitch.
Gunn found the court had approved some $4,000 in erroneous fees to the public guardian’s office, but those fees were never actually collected.
County Counsel Charles McKee declined to comment on the specific allegations in Gunn's and Empasis' claims, but offers this insight into personnel-related claims in general:
"Some allegations are ultimately confirmed and many are not as the legal process unfolds," he writes by email.
"It is most important in personnel claims to allow a thorough evaluation to occur," he continues, "before asserting or insinuating the allegations are meritorious or unmeritorious."