Saturday, July 21, 2007

County sued over alleged racism

Leslie Parrilla
A former county Drug and Alcohol Services employee has sued the county, saying her department was rife with racism and that she was harassed when she refused to take part in the culture.

The lawsuit — filed July 11 against the Drug and Alcohol Services Department, director Star Graber and employees Vicky Wolf and Debbie White—seeks unlimited damages, according to court documents.

The suit alleges Natalia Acosta was retaliated against and forced to work in a racially hostile environment and that the department did nothing to prevent the discrimination and harassment.

Assistant County Counsel Wyatt Cash said his office has not yet been served with the lawsuit and had no comment.

A lawsuit represents only one side of a case.

Acosta, a Mexican-American, was hired Jan. 31, 2006, as a counselor in the department. She said harassment began immediately, with employees creating an us-versus- them mentality between white and Mexican-American employees.

“On (Acosta’s) first day at work, another county drug and alcohol services employee, defendant

Vicky Wolf, asked (Acosta) if she was Mexican and if she spoke Spanish,” the lawsuit showed. “When (Acosta) answered yes to both, defendant Wolf said … it was good because there were only five of us and us Mexicans need to stick together.”

Over the next several months Acosta said Wolf repeatedly made disparaging remarks about white co-workers.

“Wolf displayed open hostility to other white employees and promoted a racially-based environment of us against them,” the suit reads.

Other employees also are accused in the suit of contributing to the hostile environment.

When Acosta remained friendly with white employees, tensions rose between her and nonwhite co-workers, according to the lawsuit. She filed a complaint about the conditions with a supervisor.

Shortly thereafter, Acosta claims, retaliation started and Graber, Wolf and White would slam doors in Acosta’s face, not interact with her in a professional manner and respond to her with scowls and silence, the lawsuit said.

Graber is accused of further retaliating against Acosta by criticizing work she had praised before the complaint.

It is unknown if the complaint was investigated.

Acosta left the agency June 15, 2006, because of the work environment, according to the lawsuit.

After filing an unemployment compensation claim that the county rejected, Acosta’s Grover Beach attorney, David Hagan, said it was ultimately approved after a hearing about the working environment.

“It really is an unusual situation,” Hagan said. “It’s a situation where the principles of racial harmony are certainly not being taken seriously.

“… My client is a bilingual minority, and she found herself in a situation where she was expected to pick sides. It just seems really unusual in 2006 that that would be going on.”

See a copy of the lawsuit


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