Discrimination Trial Against County Continues
Bullied, Blamed, and Fired Because She’s a Jewish Woman, Claims Heidi Garcia
Heidi Garcia’s case against her former employer, Santa Barbara County, continued on Monday, August 23, with her cross-examination by the defense. Garcia is alleging that she was discriminated against and unlawfully terminated from her executive position with the county. Under cross-examination, Garcia insisted that she was singled out for being a Jewish woman, and that the financial hole her department was in during her employment was the shared responsibility of all the executives, not just her.
Garcia served as assistant director of programs for the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services Department (ADMHS), specifically the mental health component, from 2002 to 2007. She claims that former director James Broderick and his replacement, interim director Douglas Barton, mistreated her from 2005 until her termination in July 2007.
When Broderick retired, she rescinded the complaint she had originally filed because she was looking forward to new leadership and “wanted a tabula rasa—a clean slate,” she said. However, she alleges that she was retaliated against by Barton because of that complaint, and ultimately demoted and fired.
Attorney Jake Stoddard, representing the county, questioned Garcia about the extent to which her job swap with Al Rodriguez, manager of the alcohol and drug programs, was a demotion. She had said during the previous Thursday’s session that the new position she received in May 2007 had much less responsibility, though she conceded that her pay, at about $110,000 a year plus benefits, remained the same. Monday, Stoddard got her to admit that her title and office remained the same as well.
Stoddard inquired as to Garcia’s involvement in the budget problem within her department. “I felt some responsibility along with the other players,” she said of the department’s deep deficit in 2005-2006. However, she said, the problem was “systemic,” and although she was part of that system, she was not the only one to blame. She also said fiscal issues were not her main responsibility. Stoddard presented emails and documents either written by her or including her on budgetary matters; she frequently responded that she had no specific recollection of the particular meetings, emails, or documents.
As he had in his opening statement, Stoddard pointed out again on Monday that the fiscal problems within the department were limited to the mental health side of ADMHS, and were not on the alcohol and drugs side under the management of Rodriguez. She responded that she did not recall the financial status of Rodriguez’s division at the time. Stoddard seemed to be trying to undermine Garcia’s previous assertion that she was more qualified than Rodriguez to run the mental health division
Her involvement in the budget issues did not warrant the mistreatment she received in the workplace, according to Garcia, nor does she think it was the sole reason for the behavior. She claimed she was the only one directly “humiliated” in group settings while she was present—but not the only woman talked about. She said Broderick had talked negatively about how coworker Susan Williams dressed, and had called fellow executive Carrie Topliffe a “ball-buster.”
However, Stoddard got Garcia to admit that her original complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made no direct mention of discrimination based on sex, religion, or other protected characteristics. Garcia said she felt “it was implied.” She cited her religion and sex as a basis for discrimination the second time around when she filled out an EEOC form.
Both Stoddard and Garcia’s attorney, Matthew Clarke, pointed out Barton’s citing “at will” as his reason for firing Garcia. Clarke used it as evidence that Barton had no legitimate reason for firing her, while Stoddard used it to show just how legal her termination was. In response to Stoddard’s questioning, Garcia conceded that she was hired as an “at will” employee and could be fired at the pleasure of the director. However, she said, while the firing itself was legal, it was done for illegal reasons.
Garcia did not present an exact total amount she would be seeking in damages. Clarke listed the financial damages she incurred while being unemployed for seven months, only partially employed for 10 months, and 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.