Whistle-Blower Claims to go Forward in Gallup Suit
August, 26 2011
By Liz Kellar
A Superior Court judge has issued a mixed bag of rulings in the wrongful termination suit filed by former Family Court Services mediator Emily Gallup.
The suit filed in March by Gallup’s attorney, M. Catherine Jones, against Nevada County Superior Court, Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka, Human Resources Director Thea Palmiere and Family Court Services Interim Director Carmella Smith Cellini claimed wrongful termination in violation of public policy, violation of federal due process law, retaliation for refusing to engage in illegal conduct, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Gallup is requesting back pay, lost wages and benefits; payment of her legal costs; general damages; and compensatory damages for emotional distress.
Judge Richard Sueyoshi of the Sacramento County Superior Court ruled on Thursday that three causes of action will proceed, while dismissing two. A further status conference has not yet been scheduled.
The whistle-blower portion of the case remains intact, according to Gallup.
“I’m very happy,” Gallup said Friday. “At age 35, I had my career derailed simply because I wanted to follow the law, and I’m grateful I have the chance to show this was wrongful termination.”
Firing an ‘act of reprisal’
Gallup alleged in her suit that she was fired as an “act of reprisal” after filing a grievance in April 2010; she was terminated in December.
Gallup began working for Nevada County as an independent contractor in 2006 and was hired as an employee in 2008. She filed the grievance last year, claiming mediators were given insufficient time for appointments, were allowed inadequate review of records and gathering of facts, and were not allowed to consider criminal backgrounds while making recommendations in custody cases.
Family Court handles cases where parties seek court intervention to solve their family issues. Judges hear and decide cases involving divorce, paternity, domestic violence and abuse, child custody, support and visitation. The court also provides mediation to help parents resolve child support, child custody and visitation problems.
Once Gallup raised her concerns to her supervisors, she said, she received reprisals and retaliations from the court and its officials.
Gallup went on medical leave in July and was allowed to return to work in September, according to the lawsuit. After she returned, her work allegedly was constantly challenged by her supervisors, and she received numerous write-ups criticizing her work performance.
On Dec. 8, Gallup allegedly found 10 pages of confidential journal entries written by Cellini on the office printer that appeared to be part of an effort to discredit her work performance. She took a copy home to read and then gave the copy to her attorney, the lawsuit said.
She returned the copy to Cellini and was subsequently called into a disciplinary meeting. She was terminated from her job on Dec. 21, allegedly for “disclosure of confidential information, violation of the Code of Ethics, and engaging in unprofessional conduct.”
Metroka was not available for comment Friday, but has said Gallup’s termination had nothing to do with the grievance but instead was due to “a fairly willful violation … related to confidentiality of case information.”
Gallup’s grievance initially was awarded in her favor by an arbitrator, but that decision was overturned in Superior Court.
That’s all to the good, Gallup said Friday.
“With the award being overturned, that has allowed me to reclaim my whistle-blower status — and that’s the important part of the wrongful termination case,” she said.
Judge will not hear allegation of infliction of intentional emotional distress
Sueyoshi ruled on Thursday that Gallup cannot continue with a breach of contract claim against Nevada County Superior Court because no such liability exists; public employment in the state of California is held by statute, not by contract.
He also ruled against her claim that the court, Metroka, Palmiere and Cellini intentionally inflicted emotional distress through “outrageous conduct consisting of harassment, intimidation and differential treatment.”
Gallup can amend her complaint, but the judge noted that such a claim would not be valid if it solely consists of personnel actions such as termination, demotion, discipline and negative performance reviews.
Sueyoshi ruled that Gallup can move forward with claims that she was terminated in retaliation for whistle-blowing and for refusing to participate in an activity that would result in a violation of the law.
“It’s exactly what I expected and I’m very pleased,” Jones said. “It’s going forward as a whistle-blower case, which is what it is.”