Calling Out the County

Jury Deliberates Whether Former Executive was Wrongfully Fired

A Santa Barbara jury is deliberating whether a former Santa Barbara County executive was terminated for illegal reasons — what she alleges was gender and religious discrimination, and because she acted as a whistle-blower.

Heidi Garcia, who led the mental health side of Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services (ADMHS) before being moved to the alcohol and drug side of the department and was then ultimately terminated, sued the county for retaliatory termination, discriminatory termination, and other complaints. She said much of the prejudice came at the hands of former ADMHS director Dr. James Broderick, and his replacement, Dr. Douglas Barton.

However, testimony from several of her former colleagues in ADMHS painted a different picture, one of incompetence and difference in philosophy. Union negotiators saw her as an impediment to discussion at the bargaining table and asked that she not be present. People inside and out of the department testified that Garcia took responsibility for the budget shortfall, even though she said the shortage was widespread. Garcia said that while she felt responsible for the deficit, all executives should feel accountable.

While Garcia saw her switch from mental health duties to alcohol and drug administration as a demotion, she admitted in court that she kept the same title, office, and pay.

Garcia, who was unemployed for seven months and partially employed for 10 months following her departure from the county, is making $43,200 a year less at her current job as a therapist than she made at the county. Taking into account the losses that she will incur over the next 10 years, she is seeking nearly $600,000. Beyond that, she said she will leave it up to the jury to decide how much she should receive to compensate for the emotional strain the whole process has taken on her.

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