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Atherton settles sexual harassment case

Original post made on Dec 14, 2009

The town of Atherton paid $230,000 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a former police officer who claimed the town did nothing to curb the offensive behavior of a public works supervisor.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, December 14, 2009, 11:43 AM

Comments (32)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by had e NUFF
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 14, 2009 at 12:35 pm

Maybe it's time to say "bye bye" to Mr. Hendersen?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by urns
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 14, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Then why did we fight the Lambs on the urns & John Johns?


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Posted by neighborhood watch
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 14, 2009 at 3:03 pm

Dear Urns-- the town spent money litigating BOTH sides of the issues you mention and many more (the Kings , Sam Benzicar, the Ackleys......) because of fear, confusion, and insanity--but mostly because Charles was helping all these litigants from the inside with information and promises to them which subverted the process of how a town is meant to function--Also there was a lot of really bad legal advice.
I've seen some pretty wild outcomes where the town actually promotes people in order to deny that the was ever a problem--so it wouldn't surprise me to see Pilar end up as Chief.


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Posted by Urns
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 14, 2009 at 8:19 pm

It makes me wonder what would have been exposed if Pilars attorney took depositions. Is the police department hiding something? I have never heard of a case settled faster in the history of Atherton. It's the NO deposition thing that makes me wonder.


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Posted by California bankrupt
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 14, 2009 at 9:54 pm

This is a microcosm of some of the issues causing California to go bankrupt. The 90% pension and free health care for life after 30 years (actually free health care for life is a lot sooner than 30 years) wasn't enough for this cop. She had to have $230K plus a full pension a lot sooner than that. After all, she was risking her life patrolling the Selby Lane school.

It's simple arithmetic to figure out that we can't afford to perpetuate people retiring at age 50 (or in her case, younger) with lifetime pensions almost equal to their base salary.

Anyone who speaks out is accused of being anti-police. I'm not anti-police. The usual argument, they're putting their life on the line, doesn't cut it for me. There are other professions (lumber, fishermen) with higher mortality rates that don't garner these types of lifetime pensions. It's really just dollars and cents (or sense).


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 15, 2009 at 8:19 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

We need a culture of transparency in which expenditures of almost a quarter of a million dollars are explained to the citizens by the person or persons who made that expenditure of public funds.

It is disingenuous to suggest that a settled case is a non-disclosable personnel matter.

Who approved this expenditure and when?

What steps have been taken to ensure that the actions which lead to this significant expenditure will not occur again?

Did the employee whose actions directly lead to this costly settlement make a financial contribution to this settlement?


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Posted by tell me more
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Dec 15, 2009 at 9:48 am

Dear Interested

Your post was deleted. The swine you referred to. Is he management (or above) level employee or is he below the level of a department head?

Is he a current or former Atherton employee?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by To Peter
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm

It's not disingenuous to suggest a settled case is a non-disclosable personnel matter, because it is. There are privacy laws in effect, and it's a state law. An person in HR knows this. While taxpayers may be footing the bill, taxpayers are not allowed carte blanche info on personnel matters.

Your desire for transparency stops where the law takes over.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 15, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Once a settlement has been reached and entered into the public record there is NO right of privacy regarding that settlement.

These are public funds, the settlement was made by public officials and the settlement was entered into the public record - there is NO justification for not answering these questions:

Who approved this expenditure and when?

What steps have been taken to ensure that the actions which lead to this significant expenditure will not occur again?

Did the employee whose actions directly lead to this costly settlement make a financial contribution to this settlement?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Direction this is heading
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 15, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Peter, Pilar ("to Peter") is alluding to the notion that if the settlement was part of her police officer's personnel file, it is immunized to a large extent from public disclosure according to California law. Nice try on her part (and Atherton's), but courts have repeatedly ruled that any public settlement agreement is public record, whether it is with a cop or not.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lulu
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 15, 2009 at 3:34 pm

Leave Troy alone ladies--he is not going anywhere--and has been supported in a jury verdict. That's over.
There are plenty of other issues for you to focus on that might actually bring some correction to town.
Some functioning Leadership for instance--which might trickle down through out ALL
departments.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Richard Hine
editor of The Almanac
on Dec 15, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Richard Hine is a registered user.

I've taken down posts with accusations of wrongdoing against a named person.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by To Peter
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2009 at 5:41 pm

I am not Pilar, not sure who she is. I'd like to hear more about revealing the employee complainant names once a case is settled. Does anyone have legit references to case law or Calif. law?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Direction this is heading
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 15, 2009 at 5:51 pm

The complainant name is part of the public lawsuit Pilar filed. She is the complainant.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2009 at 5:54 pm

No Mr.Hine, at least be honest. You deleted my post which had no name in it al all.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Mr. Hine I apologize to you. There are two sets of comments on this matter. My post remains on the other one.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 15, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Brown Act is very clear on the fundamental principles:

54950 In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

*****
The provisions in the Brown Act regarding closed sessions for current or pending litigation only provide for closed sessions on those matters BEFORE the litigation is settled. And the agendas for those closed session MUST identify the name of the parties in the litigation.
*************

The Brown Act further specifies:
54957.1. (a) The legislative body of any local agency shall publicly report any action taken in closed session and the vote or abstention of every member present thereon, as follows:



(3) Approval given to its legal counsel of a settlement of pending litigation, as defined in Section 54956.9, at any stage prior to or during a judicial or quasi-judicial proceeding shall be reported after the settlement is final, as specified below:

(A) If the legislative body accepts a settlement offer signed by the opposing party, the body shall report its acceptance and identify the substance of the agreement in open session at the public meeting during which the closed session is held.

(B) If final approval rests with some other party to the litigation or with the court, then as soon as the settlement becomes final, and upon inquiry by any person, the local agency shall disclose the fact of that approval, and identify the substance of the agreement.
****************************

Did the Council discuss this matter in closed session?

Did the Council review and approve this settlement?

Is the Town Manager authorized to approve $230,000 settlements without the review and approval of the elected Town Council?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, 4 hours ago
Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac

Once a settlement has been reached and entered into the public record there is NO right of privacy regarding that settlement.

These are public funds, the settlement was made by public officials and the settlement was entered into the public record - there is NO justification for not answering these questions:

Who approved this expenditure and when?

What steps have been taken to ensure that the actions which lead to this significant expenditure will not occur again?

Did the employee whose actions directly lead to this costly settlement make a financial contribution to this settlement?


I agree with Peter Carpenter.......aww sh*t, now I have to cut my wrists........hahahahaha


 +   Like this comment
Posted by barracks lawyer
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 15, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Peter may be right about Atherton having violated the spirit of the Brown Act. However, according to the California Attorney General (see link) Web Link

The Town may have acted in a manner that is consistent with the letter of the law. See the excerpt below

C. Report at the Conclusion of Closed Sessions
Once a closed session has been completed, the legislative body must convene in open
session. (§ 54957.7(b).) If the legislative body took final action in the closed session,
the body may be required to make a report of the action taken and the vote thereon to
the public at the open session. (§ 54957.1(a).) The report may be made either orally
or in writing. (§ 54957.1(b).) In the case of a contract or settlement of a lawsuit,
copies of the document also must be disclosed as soon as possible. (§ 54957.1(b) and
(c).) If final action is contingent upon another party, the legislative body is under no
obligation to release a report about the closed session. Once the other party has acted,
making the decision final, the legislative body is under an obligation to respond to
inquiries for information by providing a report of the action. (§ 54957.1(a).)

All I can say is those sneaky lawyers and those sneaky members of the City Council


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 16, 2009 at 8:10 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Brown Act states:
"(B) If final approval rests with some other party to the litigation or with the court, then as soon as the settlement becomes final, and upon inquiry by any person, the local agency shall disclose the fact of that approval, and identify the substance of the agreement."

I have filed a formal inquiry with the Town per this section - we will see what happens.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2009 at 8:29 am

Town of Atherton held a Special Meeting last night 12/15/09 5:PM. Interesting they again discussed in closed session: B. LIABILITY CLAIMS – pursuant to Government Code Section 54956.95 Claimant: Pilar Ortiz-Buckley Agency Claimed Against: Town of Atherton

I thought this was settled on November 19, 2009

Web Link


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Posted by cheerleader
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2009 at 8:33 am

You go Peter.

There have been many who have been critical of Atherton Town government only to be dismissed as a ragtag bunch of misfits not to be taken seriously.

With your distinguished record in business and government, it is not so easy for the Town to dismiss you as a mere gadfly


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2009 at 8:39 am

My mistake meeting was 2008 not last night.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by The Real Cost
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 16, 2009 at 1:40 pm

The Real Cost of this settlement is not $230,000. The Almanac should do some investigative journalism and get the settlement documents as part of a freedom of information request. Buckley was undoubtedly retired early at full pension as part of it. In fact, I heard Atherton is throwing her a retirement party now.

Don't forget, the whole subject of her lawsuit is how she wasn't accommodated for her "disability", the "disability" was made worse by the sexual harassment, and how she was either entitled to be accommodated (by being paid ful police wages while working as a dispatcher), or given an equivalent full retirement.

The full retirement, if it is true, will cost Atherton millions.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Andrea Gemmet
Almanac staff writer
on Dec 16, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

The Almanac has a copy of the settlement document. There is nothing regarding the retirement of former officer Ortiz-Buckley in it.

In the complaint in her lawsuit, she charged that she was being forced to retire against her wishes and despite her request for jobs within the police department that would accommodate her disability. She testified that she was qualified for several jobs that came open, but was denied the chance to take them.

As for the true cost of her or any other officers' retirement, it is easily in the millions of dollars for most police officers who retire with full benefits at age 50 and who live a reasonably long life.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 17, 2009 at 7:46 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Town has complied with the requirements of the Brown Act with regard to my inquiry by providing me with a copy of the settlement agreement.

I have encouraged the Town to go beyond the minimal requirements of the law and to issue a statement which addresses the following questions regarding this very significant expenditure of public funds:

Did the Council discuss this matter in closed session?

Did the Council review and approve this settlement?

Who approved this specific expenditure and when?

Is the Town Manager authorized to approve $230,000 settlements without the review and approval of the Town Council?

What steps have been taken to ensure that the actions which lead to this significant expenditure will not occur again?

Did the employee whose actions directly lead to this costly settlement make a financial contribution to this settlement?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Santa of Atherton
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 17, 2009 at 8:19 am

Why didn't the town of Atherton have Employment Practices Liability Insurance to pay for the defense and indemnity of this suit? That would have saved the taxpayers footing the bill.


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Posted by laughing
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 17, 2009 at 5:31 pm

and atherton loses yet ANOTHER law suit...how many is that in the last 10 years??????? Wow...and they keep hiring and promoting incompetance...some things just never change!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 18, 2009 at 7:36 am

Actually, these lawsuits are not funny and we taxpayers end up paying the bill. Fortunately, I don't live in Atherton.

Something is clearly wrong. Either with Mr. Henderson - who appears to have a history of not playing well with other staff; the police officer - who probably exploited an unfortunate situation and was rewarded; the town staff - who hasn't paid sufficient attention to past "indiscretions" in their midst; the town's attorney - who didn't seem to handle this dispute very well; and the town council - who handled communications poorly and, by their inaction, appear to condone all of it.

Citizens deserve better from everyone.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by embarrassed resident
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Dec 18, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Big Heartfelt Thank you to Woodside--
for still caring enough to comment so clearly about Atherton--- everyone else appears to have given up on us completely. If small towns like both of ours can't learn how to function well--then none of the larger ones will ever stand a chance. This is why the issue is so important for everyone to pay better attention to.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Charles Marsala
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 19, 2009 at 1:13 pm

TO: Peter,
Your message has been heard. At the December 16th meeting, I requested we add to the council's January study session an agenda item to develope a policy for the city manager and city attorney on how to be proactive with announcements. That will be done.

To: Neighborhood Watch,
I publicly opposed and voted against the lawsuits against the School District on the Performing Arts Center, the urns, and the other residents you mentioned. I explained my views during publicly during those meetings.

As a town we should look to build community and that does not happen by spending the taxpayer's dollars in lawsuits against those taxpayers and the school district- especially when there are other options.

On the urns- more than 150 residents signed a petition supporting allowing the urns to be moved. The Planning Commission voted to allow the movement of the urns. A judge ruled the town had not followed state law. I brought up at the lastr council meeting, that we have still not addressed the judge's ruling on setting up a Historical District. Something I beleive the residents should vote on.

On one of the abatement lawsuits against a resident, the resident brought twenty neighbors to a council meeting to ask the council to end the abatement.

A town is meant to function as a community with government supporting the efforts of the residents. Government does enforce laws and ordinances, but local government can not write laws which override state law.

Why don't you state your name?

Charles Marsala
Council Member


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 19, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Charles Marsala - Thank you.

I believe that the Town will be well served by a strong dedication to transparency. The Brown Act states the fundamental principle beautifully:

"In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."


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