Former Santa Barbara County executive Heidi Garcia, at one time the second-in-command in the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Services department, was awarded $431,000 in damages by a Santa Barbara jury last week for unlawful retaliation against her by county officials.
The jury — which for a time was deadlocked but came to an agreement after being sent back into the deliberation room by Judge Thomas Anderle — found the county had unlawfully retaliated against her by demoting and eventually terminating her for reporting to Dr. James Broderick, former ADMHS director, that he needed to report a conflict of interest for sitting on the board for Casa Esperanza, which received county funds. She said she was marginalized and was taken out of email loops and excluded from meetings and projects she would normally partake in. Broderick openly criticized her, and, Garcia said, discriminated against her based on her gender. The jury found both allegations to be true.
The county alleged Garcia, an at-will employee, was demoted and eventually terminated because she was an incompetent manager and the county was headed in a different direction. The county attempted to blame many of the fiscal woes in ADMHS on Garcia. Garcia viewed a shift from the mental health side of the department to the alcohol and drug side as a demotion, though her title, office, and salary stayed the same.
The jury unanimously awarded Garcia $236,000 for past lost earnings, $45,000 for future lost earnings, and on an 11-1 verdict, awarded $150,000 in damages for past noneconomic loss, including mental suffering and emotional distress.
Garcia was represented by Matthew Clarke of the freshly formed Christman, Kelley & Clarke law firm, which includes partners Clarke and Dugan Kelley, formerly of Barry Cappello’s firm.