SACRAMENTO — According to Emily Gallup’s attorneys, the former Family Court mediator was fired two years ago because she would not stop asking questions and challenging the system.
The attorneys for Nevada County Superior Court contend Gallup was fired simply because she stole confidential court documents.
The arguments are at the crux of a suit filed by Gallup in which she alleged that she was wrongfully terminated after blowing the whistle on the court’s failure to follow state laws; the trial began Sept. 19 and wrapped up with closing arguments Friday.
The Sacramento County jury, which will begin deliberations Tuesday, is being asked to decide if Gallup was fired as an act of retaliation 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.
Family Court handles cases where parties seek court intervention to solve family issues, and mediators are used to help parents resolve problems. Judges hear and decide cases involving divorce, paternity, domestic violence and abuse, child custody, support and visitation.
“‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have taken the notes. It was a lapse of judgement. I’m sorry.’ These are the words you never heard,” said Tim Yeung, who is representing Nevada County Superior Court with Steven Shaw.
“There was no remorse. No acknowledgement of wrongdoing ... Any employer would have fired (Gallup).”
Yeung told the jury that in order to prove the court violated the labor code, Gallup would have to prove that she had disclosed a reasonable belief that there was a violation of a state statute or regulation and that the disclosure was the motivating reason for the court’s decision to terminate her.
“I don’t think she really disclosed anything,” Yeung said, adding that none of Gallup’s letters to her supervisors allege any violations of law.
He also told the jury the letters were not expressions of legitimate concern but merely were Gallup causing trouble for a supervisor who was promoted over her.
As proof, he told the jury she never complained about any issues until after Carmella Cellini Smith was named the department head in September 2009.
Yeung detailed six concerns brought up by Gallup, arguing that none rose to the level of violations of the law.
Those 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.
“There was no unlawful motive” to fire Gallup, Yeung said.
But according to Gallup’s attorneys — George Allen and M. Catherine Jones — the court’s stated reason for firing Gallup was a smokescreen.
“The way Emily Gallup was treated was wrong,” Allen said in his closing argument.
Gallup had expressed concerns about Nevada County’s “ER model” for mediation services even before she was passed over for promotion, Allen told the jury.
“She had the temerity, the fortitude, to ask questions,” he said, adding that this was viewed as insubordination by her superiors.
According to Allen, Gallup began to get write-ups for such minor issues as being five minutes late to work.
An allegation during the trial that Gallup was guilty of a breach of ethics during a conversation with a client must not be true, Allen suggested, because she had not been written up for that.
Allen said it was “murky” as to whether the journal copied by Gallup actually was an official court document and cited testimony that similar offenses by other employees resulted only in counseling or written reprimands.
“What happened to progressive discipline?” he asked.
Allen told the jury that Gallup is 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.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4229.
“‘I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have taken the notes. It was a lapse of judgement. I’m sorry.’ These are the words you never heard.”
— Tim Yeung, attorney representing Nevada County Superior Court