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Wednesday, July 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Dirty Pool in Red Bluff, Fired Official Says

RED BLUFF, Calif. (CN) - A city finance director claims Red Bluff fired her and released her private medical information to the press to retaliate for her complaints of sexual harassment and misuse of taxpayers' money.

The release of her private medical information came about when the city released to the press in its entirety a letter she wrote in response to being fired, Margaret Van Warmerdam says in her complaint in Tehama County Court.

The entire fiasco was set off, Van Warmerdam says, after she had "disclosed to a City Council member the potential misuse of public funds by the city," and had complained to the city manager that a department director had inappropriately touched women in the finance department.

After she made the complaints to the City Council member, Van Warmerdam says, "City Manager Martin Nichols wrongfully reprimanded and suspended plaintiff without pay, stating that her disclosure to the City Council was allegedly 'embarrassing' and 'insubordinate' to the city manager."

And after she brought up the sexual harassment, Van Warmerdam says, "the city manager issued a written letter of reprimand to plaintiff, which alleged that on January 5, 2010, plaintiff had 'falsely accused' the department director of inappropriately touching Finance Department staff. In fact, the city failed to adequately investigate the validity of plaintiff's accusations."

The Red Bluff Daily News then ran a story "criticizing the city manager's handling of budget deficits at the city," and a little over a week later, "plaintiff notified the city manager of her need for a medical leave absence due to stress," Van Warmerdam says.

Two days later, "the city served plaintiff with a Notice of Proposed Discipline - Termination," and placed her on administrative leave. The notice gave her 5 days to respond to her firing.

Van Warmerdam says that through an attorney she "faxed and mailed a written response to the city attorney, Richard L. Crabtree. The written response opposed plaintiff's proposed termination on grounds that it would constitute unlawful discrimination and retaliation. In support, the response discussed examples of several protected activities of plaintiff. Plaintiff's written response to the city attorney revealed private and sensitive facts about plaintiff including, but not limited to, plaintiff's medical condition and the fact that she had made a confidential complaint of sexual harassment against a department director of the city.

"After receiving plaintiff's written response, the city immediately gave an unredacted copy of plaintiff's entire written response to a reporter with the Red Bluff Daily News. Such disclosure resulted in a lengthy published article in the Red Bluff Daily News the next day, which quoted extensively from plaintiff's written response, including many private and sensitive facts about plaintiff. For example and without limitation, the newspaper article revealed plaintiff's need for a medical leave of absence, disclosed the name and department of the department director whose conduct plaintiff had complained of, and quoted the city as saying that plaintiff had 'falsely accused' the director. The article was lengthy and prominently displayed as the top story on the front page of the newspaper. Further, the article was prominently displayed online on the Red Bluff Daily News' Web site for several days, which resulted in numerous written comments and editorials from readers and viewers.

"Further, plaintiff is informed and believes and thereon alleges that the city disclosed unredacted copies of plaintiff's written response, and/or the contents of such written response, to other public media sources, including but not limited to KRCR TV News Channel 7 and the Redding Record Searchlight, in Redding, California."

Then the city made her firing official, Van Warmerdam says.

She says she "sustained and continues to sustain substantial losses in earnings and other benefits" and "plaintiff has been exposed to contempt and ridicule and suffered loss of reputation and standing in the community, all of which caused her, and continues to cause her, humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish and severe emotional distress."

She seeks lost wages and punitive damages for real and/or perceived disability discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation, invasion of privacy, defamation, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

She is represented by Mark Vegh with Wells, Small, Fleharty & Weil of Redding.

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