Discrimination complaint filed against county
July 23, 2008
By KAREN VELIE
Eight Probation Department employees have filed a lawsuit against the county of San Luis Obispo claiming they were harassed and discriminated against because of their race and gender.
The plaintiffs, all Hispanic women, accuse the department of five causes of action including allegations of prejudice in promotions, training, workload, and supervisory requirements in the lawsuit.
Probations Department Human Resource Manager Antonia Herrera accuses the department’s Chief Probation Officer, Kim Barrett, of making racial slurs and condoning discriminatory and harassing conduct towards Hispanics. Herrera alleges she has overheard Barrett refer to Hispanic employees as “wacko” and “not smart enough to do their jobs,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed July 14, alleges harassment by Administrative Services Officer Michael O’Connell, and contends management has either ignored complaints, or labeled the conduct as “teasing.” At times, the lawsuit alleges, those complaining were threatened. A 2007 county investigation concluded that allegations of O’Connell’s harassment and intimidation of Hispanic women were true.
Nevertheless, upon the investigation’s conclusion, O’Connell was allowed to retain his position. Some of the women were offered transfers to other departments and threatened with disciplinary action if they discussed the investigation. According to the lawsuit, white employees were not given the same gag order.
“Neither Chief Barrett nor Wendy White (administrative services manager) ever reprimanded O’Connell for his flagrant disregard for the investigator’s findings, nor for his continued hostile conduct towards the complaining Hispanic women,” according to the lawsuit.
Barrett and O’Connell did not return requests for comment.
Attorney for the plaintiffs, Eric Woosley of Santa Barbara, detailed a list of job requirements based on race that include demannding that Hispanic workers call three supervisors when taking a day off and bring a doctors note upon return. White co-workers need call only one supervisor and need not bring proof of their ailment.
“This is one of the most pervasive discriminatory workplaces we have seen in hundreds of cases we have been involved in,” Woosley said. “It is considered a very large discrimination case.”
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for loss of wages, promotional opportunities, and mental anguish.