Family court wrongful termination suit begins
Jury selection got under way Monday in a whistle-blowing suit filed by former Family Court mediator Emily Gallup against Nevada County Superior Court.
Gallup has alleged that she was wrongfully terminated after blowing the whistle on the court’s failure to follow state laws.
The case is being heard in Sacramento County Superior Court, and Gallup estimated it could take two to four weeks to complete.
“I want to call attention to the inner workings of the family court,” Gallup said in a prepared statement. “My department ignored the law and put children and parents in unsafe situations. When I tried to address these compliance issues internally, I became the target of retaliation.
“I finally asked the Administrative Office of the Courts for help,” she continued. “I was turned away. I learned that the AOC has no authority over individual family court departments. Each court is supposed to police itself. I hope my lawsuit will draw attention to the consequences of allowing family court departments to operate without oversight.”
In July, a Superior Court judge ruled that only a whistle-blowing claim filed by Gallup could move forward to trial. The judge threw out claims of a hostile, oppressive and intimidating work environment leading to retaliation and termination and retaliation due to her refusal to participate in an activity prohibited by law.
Gallup initially filed suit in March 2011 against Nevada County Superior Court, Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka, Human Resources Director Thea Palmiere and Family Court Services Interim Director Carmella Smith Cellini.
Gallup requested back pay, lost wages and benefits, payment of her legal costs, general damages and compensatory damages for emotional distress.
She has alleged that she was fired as an act of reprisal after filing a grievance in April 2010; she was terminated in December of that year.
The grievance she filed in 2010 claimed 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 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.
When 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 2010 and was allowed to return to work in September 2010, 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. 9, 2010, Gallup allegedly found 10 pages of confidential journal entries written by Cellini that she said appeared to be part of an effort to discredit her work performance, which she took home. She was terminated from her job 12 days later, allegedly for “disclosure of confidential information, violation of the Code of Ethics and engaging in unprofessional conduct.”
According to Gallup, she was fired in a final act of reprisal.
Gallup is working with The Center for Judicial Excellence and the California Protective Parents Association to advocate for greater oversight of the family court system and said that problems in the family court system will persist until judges and other court officials are held accountable for following the law.
Opening statements are expected Tuesday and the trial will continue the rest of the week.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4229.
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