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EXCLUSIVE: Central Basin Will Pay $2.25 Million To Settle Employee Harassment Claims

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May 5, 2023

By Brian Hews

Former Central Basin (CB) employee Tammye Hierlihy, and four others, have reached a tentative settlement agreement following a series of lawsuits claiming harassment, intimidation, retaliation, and wrongful termination.

According to CB officials, the agency’s insurance company will pay $1 million, while CB will pay $1.25 million.

In the successful lawsuit, Hierlihy and the other employees claimed a year-long campaign of harassment and intimidation in retaliation for “their refusal to participate in acts that would violate the law.”

The harassment started at the January 30, 2020, special board meeting where, according to the lawsuit,  then-Director Leticia Vasquez-Wilson (Vasquez) “engaged in numerous violations of the Brown Act and District Administrative Code” in an attempt to declare herself board president.

In early February, Director Vasquez “began badgering Ms. Hierlihy and other administrative staff in several threatening emails, specifically to Ms. Hierlihy and her supervisor, Kelsey Coleman.”

Los Cerritos Community News was first to report on the 2020 harassment in September 2021 after obtaining documents via a public records request, a report that included an email from then-Board Secretary Cecilia Pulido documenting harassment by Vasquez; Pulido was pregnant at the time.

In another email, CB Director Martha Camacho-Rodriguez called Pulido a “heifer.”

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A second incident occurred on March 23, 2020 when, “Director Vasquez entered the second floor of the District offices and began rooting around and taking District payroll documents without authorization.”Personnel records are confidential, and access is granted only to the General Manager, the employee’s Senior Manager, legal counsel and Human Resources. Upon 24-hour written notice, any employee may review their personnel file in the presence of a Human Resources representative.

Los Cerritos Community News was again the first to report on the 2020 video incident, a video that included showing Vasquez handing documents to Director Camacho-Rodriguez.

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In addition, the person filming the video, Vasquez’ associate Juan “Joey” Martinez, whom the Los Angeles Times recently defended in an article calling him a “water advocate and activist,” has been involved in several verbal and near-physical altercations with some CB Board members.

“Documents [taken by Vasquez] contained confidential information about current and former employees, including social security numbers and banking information. Vasquez had her friend “Joey” film her the whole time and post the video on You Tube. Joey can be heard saying on the video ‘we’re here to start a ruckus.'”

But what Martinez said was much worse, indicating he was ready to confront CB employees, much like he did to President Art Chacon at the March 2023 meeting, “there’s not a lot of people here they don’t feel emboldened to come out here and start a ruckus, were here to start a ruckus.”

As a result of the incident, which added to the employee’s harassment lawsuits, CB was forced to purchase identity theft accounts for every CB employee and call the shriff’s on Vasquez.

“The following morning, Ms. Hierlihy and other senior managers called the Sheriff’s to report trespassing and theft of confidential information. The Sheriff’s detained Vasquez.”

Sheriffs in front of their patrol cars outside Central Basin. At the time of this picture then-CB President Leticia Vasquez was in the back of the first patrol car.

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Finally, “Hierlihy was forced to report Vasquez’s illegal and reckless actions to Avi Wizenfeld, Jackie Lacey and others at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.”

The harassment, intimidation, and retaliation against Hierlihy and the other employees ended on August 14, 2020, when they were all terminated.

 “Hierlihy was fired along with the other senior managers on August 14, 2020. Director Vasquez issued a letter stating “this was a necessary step to ensure Central Basin’s long-term financial health and stability.”

Ms. Hierlihy filed her lawsuit eleven months later in July 2021; the case, along with four others, was settled on March 3, 2023.

Interestingly, sometime after the lawsuit was filed, Vasquez filed as a “non-party” to the lawsuit; a non-party witness is not part of the litigation process. Some observers compare a non-party witness to a potted plant in the room.

But apparently you can make money off the title; Vasquez and her husband, “Sweet James” Ron Wilson, who acted as a non-party attorney, filed two “request for refunds” with the court; one was filed in March 2023, the description of which has not been posted.

The other, filed in November 2022, showed that Vasquez applied for a refund after she filed a declaration as a witness regarding a motion to compel by the plaintiff; it was granted.

Sweet James Ron and his wife got a refund for $437.25.

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In addition, there might be a reason Sweet James and his wife were non-parties to the lawsuit, sources are telling LCCN that the two are suing the employees who filed the harassment lawsuits. LCCN has sent emails but the litigious couple has not responded.

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