California County Denies Smearing Sacked Official

     SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — Attorneys for Santa Clara County told a federal judge Thursday that county officials didn’t stigmatize a former employee suing the county over the way his firing was handled.
     The case surrounds the manner in which Don Moody says was fired in 2014. Moody claims that despite positive work reviews during his six-year stint at the county’s public guardian, he was “blindsided” by a termination letter from his boss Bruce Wagstaff, the director of Santa Clara County Social Services Administration.
     Moody says that after being handed the letter he was then was asked to empty his pockets, clean out his desk and was escorted out of the building in full view of his colleagues and the public.
     At a hearing on the county’s motion to dismiss, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila asked Moody’s attorney James McManis whether the county has “the right to fire an employee if he is not meeting their standards.”
     McManis answered, “Yes, but they should have treated this man with respect. This man is a Marine. He has a great reputation and they should have allowed him to leave with dignity.”
     The attorney characterized escorting Moody from the building as making his client undergo a “perp walk.”
     “He was walked out in public so as to make a demonstration of back and low character,” McManis said. He added that the county then leaked information of the firing to the publication San Jose Inside, which ran an article about how Moody was fired and included his being escorted from the building in the headline.
     While Davila pointed out the county did not write the headline, McManis focused on the leak as the cause of the problem — arguing that it has stigmatized Moody and made it difficult for him to secure further employment.
     “If they had just terminated Mr. Moody, we wouldn’t be here,” McManis said. “But walking him out and leaking that to the press is the problem.”
     Paul Avila, the attorney representing Santa Clara, said the county did not stigmatize Moody by walking him out. Instead, Avila characterized the escort as discreet and said that the escort’s presence did not necessarily demonstrate that Moody had been fired.
     “There were no circumstances that showed he was a common criminal or even that he had been terminated,” Avila said. “He could have been simply walking out of the building.”
     Avila said Moody’s complaint does not allege that the county leaked the information to the press as a matter of precedent or that Wagstaff was personally responsible for the leak, so the county should therefore be let off the hook. Furthermore, Moody’s claim does not rise to the level of “conscience-shocking” as required by the stigmatization aspect of the law, Avila said.
     McManis countered that he was confident a jury’s conscience would be shocked at the manner in which his client was treated should the case be allowed to move forward.
     Davila gave little indication which way he was leaning and indicated he would issue a written ruling soon.
     McManis is a partner at McManis Faulkner in San Jose. Avila is with the firm McPharlin Sprikles & Thomas, also in San Jose.

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