attorney who represented a former Caltrans employee in a salacious
workplace pornography lawsuit is taking credit for the
resignations of two high-ranking state executives and requesting
millions of dollars in legal fees for his work over the past five
of California Department of Transportation Director Malcolm
Dougherty and Chief
Deputy Director Kome Ajise coincided with
milestones in the lawsuit. Dougherty testified in the case. Ajise
was on the witness list, but did not testify.
former Caltrans leaders have moved on to new jobs, Ajise with the
Southern California Association of Governments and Dougherty with
engineering firm Michael Baker International.
Caltrans spokesman said their departures were unrelated to the
case. It's common for senior state executives to look for new
career opportunities in the last year of a governor's term. Gov.
Jerry Brown is in his last year in office.
November, a San Joaquin County jury awarded former
Caltrans employee Rachel Elizondo $605,000. She claimed she
experienced retaliation after blowing the whistle on a group of
almost two dozen Caltrans employees who shared and stored
pornography on their work computers.
attorney, John Shepardson, now is asking a judge to award him $4.6
million in fees for his time
and the risk he took in suing Caltrans. The trial alone
lasted more than 30 days.
he lost the case, Elizondo would have been on the hook for tens of
thousands of dollars in Caltrans legal expenses.
“took tremendous risk” in pursuing the case “and hopefully this
will bring change to Caltrans,” Shepardson said.
case was Elizondo’s second lawsuit against Caltrans. In the first,
she reported that she felt ostracized after reporting financial
mismanagement. A jury sided with Caltrans in that 2009 case.
year, a supervisor asked her to check his computer and she
discovered a cache of pornography.
reported the pornography to another supervisor and asked to have
her complaint remain confidential. Instead, her co-workers quickly
learned that she drew attention to the pornography that some of
them shared on state-owned computers, according to her lawsuit and
a Caltrans investigation.
in 2009 affirmed her complaint, finding that a group of more than
20 employees at its Stockton office acknowledged sharing or
receiving receiving pornographic material and other unprofessional
messages. One of them, former project manager Scott Guidi,
received a disciplinary letter, according to court records.
the next few years, Elizondo, 62, said her colleagues isolated and
intimidated her. Some of them told her friends not to talk to her;
others “glared” at her. The car she drove to work was damaged
twice in that time frame, too, she said.
was brutal. It was very hard to go to work being in that type of
environment,” she said.
of Elizondo's co-workers wrote in sworn statements that they
noticed the harassment, and that colleagues had told them to
ignore Elizondo. Elizondo also was passed over for a promotion
following her complaint, the lawsuit alleges.
behavior sent a message in the office that employees could suffer
retaliation by following the rules, Elizondo and Sherpardson said.
a clique,” said Jaqueline McCollum, 56, a former Caltrans
right-of-way agent and shop steward for Service Employees
International Union Local 1000. “People were like, ‘Don’t talk to
her. She’s a troublemaker.’ We weren’t getting any justice.”
was the regional director overseeing the Stockton office at the
time. Dougherty was a regional director in the Southern San
Joaquin Valley, although he also had oversight of some of the
Stockton employees. Elizondo filed her lawsuit in 2013.
the trial, Dougherty acknowledged that he was aware of the
complaint during a period in late 2009 when he was moving back and
forth between assignments at Caltrans headquarters in Sacramento
and a regional office in Fresno.
pressed him on whether he handed down specific guidance directing
employees not to retaliate against Elizondo.
did not take that step. He said he didn’t think the key employees
in the case fell under his chain of command at the time.
have 1,700 employees. I don’t know that that individual worked for
me at the time,” he said, according to a court transcript.
does not have proof that Elizondo’s lawsuit led Ajise and
Dougherty to leave Caltrans. He’s asserting that the case played a
factor because Ajise moved on during the trial and Dougherty
announced his departure after the Stockton Record newspaper wrote
several stories about the case, including
one that mentioned Dougherty.
spokesman Matt Roco said their departures had nothing to do with
more than 40 years combined experience as transportation leaders
and distinguished careers at Caltrans, both Dougherty and Ajise
left the department on their own accord. Their decision to pursue
other opportunities was entirely unrelated to this litigation,”
won her case in November and a judge in January rejected Caltrans’
request for a new trial. The $605,000 verdict in her favor was
meant to compensate her for the misconduct she experienced.
he won the case, Shepardson can ask a judge to compel Caltrans to
pay his fees and costs. He’s asking for a multiplier on those fees
because of the complexity of the case and because it exposed
cites Ajise and Dougherty in his request, arguing they “failed to
prevent systemic porn on state computers and the retaliation
against Rachel for reporting it.”
and Caltrans attorneys have been negotiating a settlement. Rocco
said the department would fight the $4.6 million request. Caltrans
"believes the request for attorneys fees and costs to be excessive
and plans to assert all legal challenges available to it," he
Caltrans director Laurie Berman in an interview with The Bee last
month said the department had opened new channels for employees to
report sexual harassment. "There is no place for it and we will
deal with it appropriately," she said.