In a trial that commenced in Santa Barbara Superior Court last week, former county executive Heidi Garcia is alleging that she was demoted and eventually terminated because of racial and religious discrimination levied against her by former Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services (ADMHS) director Dr. James Broderick and his successor, Doug Barton.
The county, however, is suggesting that Garcia’s incompetence in the department’s second-highest position led to some of the fiscal woes the long-beleaguered organization now finds itself in.
After opening statements late last week, Garcia herself was the first to take the stand. According to Garcia, she sees this treatment by former director of ADMHS Broderick and former interim director Barton as an act of discrimination based on her being a Jewish woman.
After the trial, Garcia said her basis for believing this, particularly on Broderick’s part, is that he had made comments about her womanhood. According to Garcia, Broderick noted how she was the first woman he had ever supervised, and how she had a “strong personality.”
Religion, she said, was also an issue with Broderick. “He regularly talked about his Catholic upbringing and education and characterized it as a superior education, and culture, in a sense, and so that led me to believe that possibly he could be bunking down on people of other religions,” she said.
Their relationship was not always so rocky. Although she said she noticed these comments from the beginning, during her first few years of employment beginning in 2002 they “worked very well together.” However, she alleges that everything changed in 2005 after Broderick suffered a heart attack, after which point he began to shout at her, act disrespectfully, and, to use her words, “humiliate” her. This continued until she subsequently filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), after which point, she said things only got worse. She said she was passed over for high profile projects and generally excluded from department matters.
After Broderick resigned, he was replaced by, as Garcia said, his “friend” Doug Barton, whose previous firing she said she had taken part in. Barton was in the process of “reorganizing” the department, and in May 2007 swapped Garcia’s position with that of Al Rodriguez, the manager of ADMHS’s alcohol and drug programs. Garcia had been the head of the mental health services side of the department, a role she said had much greater responsibility. She viewed the transfer as a demotion, although the pay stayed the same.
Garcia — who has a master’s degree and is working on her psychology doctorate — and her lawyer Matthew Clarke claimed Rodriguez, who does not have a bachelor’s degree, was much less qualified for the position. However, Jake Stoddard, who is defending the county, said in his opening statement that Rodriguez had produced much better fiscal results. He said ADMHS was in severe budget trouble, and that all of it was coming from the mental health side of things.
On the other hand, Stoddard said, Rodriguez had produced a surplus in his department. However, according to Garcia and the document describing her position as assistant director, budget matters were not a major responsibility of hers. Stoddard did not get a chance to cross-examine the witness during Thursday’s proceedings, but is expected to get the chance Monday.
Also expected to testify at trial is County CEO Mike Brown, various other ADMHS executives, and other county officials.
After five years of generally favorable performance reviews and several raises, Garcia was terminated by courier in July 2007 while away from the office. She said she was devastated, and remained unemployed for a year until she found a job as a therapist for significantly less pay than she had received working for the county. She is suing for damages related to that year of unemployment, although she would not comment as to how much compensation she is seeking.
She alleges that discrimination was the basis of her mistreatment and termination, started under Broderick and carried out by Barton. However, Stoddard noted that her first complaint to the EEOC, in the form of a letter, did not reference the discrimination she marked down in her second complaint, the form from the EEOC on which she identified her sex and religion as the basis for discrimination.
However, Garcia said she did not see anybody else receive the same level of disrespect. “I felt that he was targeting me … I felt very discriminated against, and I did not see him treat other people in that manner,” she said. The trial will continue through this week.
Two pieces of information in this story have been corrected since its original posting: Al Rodriguez (not Refugio Rodriguez) took over mental health services, and Doug Barton was an interim director and is not the current director.