The Daily News has recently gained access to court documents detailing a federal lawsuit against outgoing Siskiyou County Counsel Tom Guarino as well as the board of supervisors and several other county staff members.

The Daily News has recently gained access to court documents detailing a federal lawsuit against outgoing Siskiyou County Counsel Tom Guarino as well as the board of supervisors and several other county staff members. All parties involved in the suit have refused to confirm or deny a connection between the lawsuit and Guarino’s recent termination by the board.

According to the federal documents, former Deputy County Counsel Paula Baca filed the suit on the grounds that the defendants allegedly engaged in discrimination and retaliation against her, as well as refusing to accommodate her “disability being created by her work environment” which she says “forced her to quit her employment with the county of Siskiyou.”

The defendants, as named in the suit filed with the Eastern California District of the U.S. District Court, are Guarino, the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, former County Administrator Brian McDermott, County Personnel Manager Ann Waite, Assistant County Administrator Rose Ann Herrick and David Prentice, an attorney retained by the county to work on many legal issues including some related to Baca’s employment.

Baca alleges that, between November 2008 and February 2012, Guarino made comments to her and other coworkers that created an atmosphere of fear and hostility in relation to taking sick leave and vacation time. She additionally alleges that Guarino only applied this pressure to the female employees under his supervision, allegedly overlooking tardiness and poor performance by the sole male employee of the department.

The document states that Guarino “repeatedly told the plaintiff that she could be laid off,” though it goes on to state that, “Guarino observed the plaintiff crying about this prospect. Guarino assured the plaintiff that if either of the [Child Protective Services] attorneys would be laid off, it would be the plaintiff’s coworker and not the plaintiff.”

Sick/vacation leave
Another instance detailed in the document describes a situation in June 2011 in which Guarino allegedly suggested that Baca cancel a scheduled vacation because of concerns regarding her workload.

In response to the suggestion, the document states that Bacca told Guarino that employees should not be afraid to use the sick and vacation leave they had earned and that his attitude was creating a hostile work environment.

The document goes on to state that, as a result of the conversation, Guarino reported himself to the personnel department, triggering  an internal investigation referred to in Baca’s claim as “Sick/Vacation Leave Investigation.”

According to the claim, Baca repeatedly expressed a fear that Guarino would retaliate against her for the complaint which resulted in the investigation.

Ultimately, Baca’s claim lists no formal action taken against her or Guarino as a result of the sick/vacation leave instigation.

Ethics investigation
The sick/vacation leave investigation was only the first investigation detailed in the Baca suit.

The document goes on to state  that on or about Aug. 8, Guarino alleged that Baca had violated a workplace  ethics code.  

The document quotes Guarino as alleging that, “Ms. Baca on county time made a proposal to take the work she is doing currently involving [Child Protective Services] matters private and hire herself as a private contractor.”

Baca’s claim states that this allegation was false.

However, according to Michael Noda, Siskiyou County Director of Human Services, Baca did propose an arrangement by which she would perform Child Protective Services work as a private contractor.

The claim document states that, as a result of Guarino’s allegation of an ethics violation, Baca was informed on Sept. 2 that the county would be launching an ethics investigation into her actions.

The document states that on the same day, Baca “provided Guarino, Waite and Herrick with a health provider’s documentation that she was to be off of work a minimum of two weeks,” because she “couldn’t handle” the “discrimination and retaliation that was occurring.”

The “stress leave” began on Sept. 2 and ultimately ended on Nov. 14, resulting in a leave of more than 70 days.  

While Baca’s stress leave and the ethics investigation continued concurrently, Baca’s claim document states that she complained to county officials that David Prentice – the attorney hired to perform the investigation –  had a conflict of interest due to his alleged personal friendship with Guarino, citing an alleged long-standing professional association.

As with her complaints about discrimination, Baca’s suit claims  this allegation was also not investigated by the county.

The document lists no formal action taken as a result of the ethics investigation but states, “Prentice’s ethics investigation finding was that more investigation was needed if the county wanted to consider disciplining the plaintiff.”

Baca’s claim states that on Oct. 7, while still on leave, she filed a physician’s note asking that she be “accommodated by being able to work at home” due to “disability being created by her work environment.”

According to the document, the county refused to meet this request.

On that same day, the claim states that Baca filed a worker’s compensation claim with the county human resources office, citing work related stress. On  Oct. 13 she dropped the request.  The claim document alleges that this was done based on promises that “changes were coming.”

The document states that on Nov. 14 Baca returned to work to find a performance evaluation rating her low in work performance, judgement, job knowledge and personal interaction.”  

The claim states, on Dec. 21, Baca was told by Waite that “the board of supervisors had decided that nothing further would be done about any of her claims.”
It goes on to state, “Following holidays, and vacation and sick leave,” Baca returned to work on Jan. 11, 2012.

Baca’s claim then states that she again “went out on stress leave and visited her doctor, who put her off work due to job related stress, effective Jan. 19, 2012.”

While on leave, Guarino allegedly sent a letter to Baca criticizing her for “not planning her medical leave better and for leaving unfinished projects.” Later  she allegedly received an additional letter requesting a “certificate of completion for an ethics course that Guarino wanted her to take.”   

Ultimately, according to the document, Baca resigned her position with the Siskiyou County Office of County Counsel on Feb. 14 “due to the overt and continuing harassment, retaliation, discrimination, sudden criticism of her work, her lower employee performance evaluation, the county’s refusal to investigate and remediate her harassment and retaliation claims, the county’s refusal  to accommodate her and a lack of an interactive process.”

A pretrial hearing is scheduled for the case on Oct. 22 before District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton.
The Daily News will continue to follow this story as new details become available.