October 20, 2012
SACRAMENTO — A Sacramento County jury found in former Family Court mediator Emily Gallup’s favor in all aspects of her whistle-blowing lawsuit against Nevada County Superior Court Friday morning.
The jury awarded Gallup $313,206 in damages.
“I think Nevada County totally, totally harmed her, and I think she didn’t get nearly enough in compensation,” said juror Irene Melendez following the verdict.
The jury was asked to determine whether Gallup was fired in retaliation for whistle-blowing, or because of a pattern of undermining her supervisor that culminated in an act of egregious misconduct — taking pages of notes from her supervisor’s diary that contained confidential case information.
Gallup’s suit against Nevada County Superior Court alleged she was wrongfully terminated after blowing the whistle on the court’s failure to follow state laws.
“I’m grateful my name has been cleared, that I’m not a thief or an unethical mediator.”
— Emily Gallup
Family Court handles cases where parties seek court intervention to solve family issues. Judges hear and decide cases involving divorce, paternity, domestic violence and abuse, child custody, support and visitation.
According to Emily Gallup’s attorneys, she was fired two years ago because she would not stop asking questions and challenging the system.
Gallup’s concerns included a dispute over whether criminal records could be accessed in some cases; the time allowed for mediation; reviewing of the court files; collateral contacts; separate mediation in domestic violence cases; and whether then-Family Court Judge Julie McManus exerted undue influence in custody cases by referencing a photo of a child who committed suicide.
“I’m grateful my name has been cleared, that I’m not a thief or an unethical mediator,” Gallup said after the verdict.
“Those awful accusations have been exposed for what they were. As hard as this has been, I’m not sorry for what I did. I’m glad I blew the whistle because people were being hurt … I think the court should be ashamed it treated employees the way it did, and that employees have treated clients the way they did.”
The jury found that Gallup had reasonable cause to believe there had been a violation of a state statute or regulation, and that she had disclosed that belief to her supervisors.
They also found that her attempts to disclose that belief had resulted in an adverse action — being fired — and that retaliation was the motive for her firing.
They found that the court did not have a valid reason to terminate her, and that she was caused substantial harm because of being fired.
Gallup’s attorneys had sought to prove that Gallup was entitled to nearly $475,000 in financial damages for lost wages, adding that it was up to them to decide the extent of damages for emotional distress.
The jury awarded her $168,206 in past losses, but only $105,000 for future losses. They awarded her $40,000 for past non-economic damages and emotional distress, and nothing for future emotional distress.
“Of course, the court affirms its respect for the jury decision-making process,” said Nevada County Superior Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka.
“We have to note the matter is not final until all appeals are exhausted, so further comment would be inappropriate at this time.”
Metroka said, however, that it was too soon to know if an appeal will be filed.
Several jurors said after the verdict that they considered Gallup to be the victim of an unfair and biased investigation process.
“A grievance is supposed to be investigated fairly, without any bias,” said juror Debi Mitchell. “This was not a fair and impartial investigation … I’m glad we got to show that their behavior was wrong. I hope they can change the way they treat employees and create a better work environment.”
“I felt there was some harm, but there was culpability on both sides,” said juror Marc Cambridge.
“We weighed both sides, and the court had the power. The feeling by most of us was that the situation was escalated by the court. They took it beyond where they needed to be.”
The court’s attorneys had sought to convince the jury that Gallup had not proven that any of her concerns rose to the level of violations of the law. That issue did not appear to have been a consideration for the jurors interviewed, however.
Metroka expressed some surprise at that, saying, “There was no evidence presented to indicate that the court had at any time violated laws or rules of court in conducting Family Court services.”
Jurors also found that Gallup did not take the journal and disclose its contents to others.
There will be a hearing on Oct. 19 for Nevada County Superior Court to plead an equitable defense, that Gallup was not entitled to a financial remedy because she acted unethically.
But Gallup attorney M. Catherine Jones said it was not likely they would prevail because the jury did not make that finding.
Gallup said her fight is far from over.
“I still think there are major problems in Nevada County’s mediation department,” she said. “The Family Court judge (Scott Thomsen) is very good, but he has little oversight of the mediation department — nobody has oversight. I’m not going to feel I’m done with this project until there is some kind of outside oversight … I don’t think the court should be policing themselves.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4229.