Whistleblower trial gets under way in Sacramento
October 6, 2012
A Sacramento County jury is being asked to decide if former Family Court mediator Emily 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 alleges that she was wrongfully terminated after blowing the whistle on the court's failure to follow state laws; the case got under way with opening statements Wednesday in Sacramento County Superior Court.
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.
The court also provides mediation to help parents resolve problems.
According to the court's attorneys, Gallup only began raising issues over Family Court procedures after she was passed over for promotion in favor of Carmella Cellini Smith, who then became her supervisor.
"This case is about an employee who applied for a job … and was terribly disappointed," said Tim Yeung, who is representing Nevada County Superior Court with Steven Shaw.
Yeung said that Gallup was "elated" because she believed she was in line for the position and caused a scene at a meeting in September 2009 when Smith was named interim director for Family Court Services.
"That incident is key to understanding this case," Yeung said. "After that date, everything changed … There was tension in the workplace."
Gallup "began a campaign of challenging Carmella every step of the way," Yeung said, adding that Gallup only began complaining about the procedures in Family Court after September 2009. And he added it was not true that Gallup did not get any response to her questions about those procedures.
"It just was not the response she wanted," he said.
Even after several negative performance evaluations and a letter of reprimand — as well as a grievance that had gone to arbitration — Gallup continued with the same course of behavior, Yeung said.
In early December 2010, Gallup found copied pages from Smith's journal that contained negative comments about her job performance, which she took to her attorney, M. Catherine Jones.
Such "severe misconduct" would have resulted in the firing of any employee and would not require progressive discipline, Yeung said.
"Taking those notes without permission is what led to her termination," Yeung told the jury, explaining that the notes contained confidential information about litigants.
Gallup attorney alleges she was terminated on pretext
George Allen — who has partnered with Jones to represent Gallup — also pinpointed the beginning of the problem as the point in time when Smith took over as Gallup's supervisor.
But Allen said that Smith's predecessor, Serge Aronow, had trusted Gallup to make certain decisions about whether she needed to look at criminal records in order to make recommendations. Smith, however, changed the rules, Allen said in his opening statement.
Allen spent a lot of time explaining the role of a mediator in Family Court, telling the jury that a mediator is supposed to review the file, gather balanced information and control for bias with a responsibility to look after the health and welfare of the children in any custody dispute.
Gallup wrote numerous letters to Smith, Family Court Judge Julie McManus and Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka, expressing her concerns that the court was not following the rules, Allen said.
"The response was, this is the way we do it here," Allen said. "You need to do what you're told to do."
According to Allen, Gallup's supervisors reprimanded her for "clogging up the system" and not respecting the system.
He called the official reason for Gallup's termination — the taking of the photocopies pages of Smith's journal — a pretext, claiming that at most, she should have been given a written reprimand,
"This was a gotcha," Allen said. "This was an excuse to terminate a troublesome employee."
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. today.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4229.
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