Lawsuit: Wapato city officials regularly harassed, intimidated former employees

Lawsuit: Wapato city officials regularly harassed, intimidated former employees
Photo courtesy of Yakima Herald-Republic 

Amid the litany of claims, lawsuits and reports piling up against Wapato city officials is another case: one that involves allegations of sexual harassment, threats to physically harm citizens and a detailed enumeration of ills against former employees.

In a lawsuit filed earlier this month, two past city staff members allege they were fired for all the wrong reasons, including whistleblowing and taking medical leave.

Cindy Goodin says she was fired as on of the city’s clerk-treasurers by Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa just minutes after submitting a formal complaint against former city administrator Juan Orozco, who resigned amid controversy last week.

The complaint accused Orozco of theft, fraud, sexual harassment, waste of government resources and misuse of government resources, among other things.

When former city clerk-treasurer Robin Cordova learned Goodin had been fired, she says she confronted Alvarez-Roa and Orozco about her termination.

After that confrontation, Cordova was allegedly subject to ostracization and hostile working conditions, ultimately leading to stress-related health issues that prompted her doctor to order her to take medical leave, according to the lawsuit.

In the lawsuit, both Goodin and Cordova say they fear for their safety and the safety of their family members, citing alleged harassment, stalking and intimidation by Orozco and members of city staff — which they believe is likely at Orozco’s direction.

The following is a list of some of the accusations included in the lawsuit:

Unfair demands of employees

In the lawsuit, both Cordova and Goodin describe a pattern of all-consuming demands Orozco made on them as employees.

Orozco allegedly told Cordova that for as much money as she was making, she should be at his beck and call.

“[Orozco] said that if he called her, she better d***-well be available,” the lawsuit said.

In addition to her regular duties, Goodin served as a personal assistant to Orozco, performing tasks as he instructed, including keeping his calendar and taking notes for him.

“Orozco told Goodin that she needed to answer his phone calls at any time day or night and that if she did not answer his calls, it would be grounds for termination,” the lawsuit said, adding that Orozco would call Goodin’s husband if he wasn’t able to reach her immediately.

Nepotism

Last February, Orozco hired his daughter — Erica Rocha –to work as deputy clerk-treasurer, which the lawsuit says was in violation of the city’s anti-nepotism policy.

The lawsuit alleges while Rocha had many responsibilities, Cordova was often tasked with assisting or taking over Rocha’s work. Cordova says Rocha also reported to her father, in spite of Cordova being her direct supervisor

When Goodin had to work overtime without compensation last fall to help Rocha with payroll, Orozco told her it was because the city couldn’t afford it, the lawsuit said.

However, when it came to Rocha’s paycheck, Goodin allegedly heard Orozco tell her “Rack up that overtime, baby,” according to the lawsuit.

Illegal contracts

In the weeks leading up to a Sept. 4, 2018 meeting where then-Mayor Orozco stepped down and then was hired as city administrator, his plans to do so were allegedly “common knowledge” in Wapato City Hall, according to the lawsuit.

“Orozco told Cordova that he was creating an administrative position for himself so he could be paid more for what he believed he was already doing,” the lawsuit said.

According to the lawsuit, the salary for the mayor at the time was $12,000. Orozco negotiated his contract to get $95,000 a year for seven years, to be paid even if he was fired, along with a severance package of six-months’ salary.

City staff allegedly knew Orozco would resign and appoint Alvarez-Roa as mayor, then have her hire him as city administrator.

“Orozco stated to Cordova that he wanted then-city council member Dora Alvarez-Roa to take over as mayor because he believed Alvarez-Roa was weak and could be easily manipulated,” the lawsuit said.

A month after Orozco was hired as city administrator, Rocha allegedly told Goodin the city’s attorneys had found out that her father’s contract was illegal, the lawsuit said.

Rocha allegedly went on to say Orozco was trying to delay matters concerning the lawsuit over his resignation for at least a year so the two of them could make as much money as they could in the meantime, the lawsuit said.

Theft

Last October, a local business owner came to Wapato City Hall to make $100 cash donation to support the city’s annual Harvest Festival, which takes place over Labor Day weekend, the lawsuit said.

Goodin says while she was taking the donation, Orozco came up behind her desk and told her to create the receipt in a Word document, which she says concerned her because it wasn’t typical practice to do receipts that way, the lawsuit said.

With Orozco allegedly looking over her shoulder, Goodin says she created the receipt in the Word document, printed a copy of it and gave it to the business owner.

“After the business owner left City Hall, Orozco told Goodin to delete the receipt and give him the $100 cash,” the lawsuit said.

Goodin says she complied, but later checked in with Cordova to see if she’d received the $100 and she hadn’t, according to the lawsuit.

Cordova says she then confronted Orozco about Goodin’s allegation that he stole the Harvest Festival donation.

Orozco allegedly claimed the donation was a reimbursement for t-shirts, at which point Cordova informed him the shirts were paid for with a city check from an invoice billed to the city, the lawsuit said.

After that, Orozco allegedly claimed the money was for candy for the celebration, which Cordova told him was also paid for with a city check and an invoice to the city, according to the lawsuit.

Cordova says she called the auditor’s office immediately after the meeting.

Financial impropriety

Last November, Orozco allegedly asked Cordova to include a five-percent raise for him and her in the 2019 budget.

“Cordova resisted, telling Orozco that she was new to the position, still learning, and that she did not feel comfortable doing so,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says Orozco was upset but allegedly dropped the issue when he realized that Cordova was not willing to include a raise for herself.

While Goodin was coordinating the Harvest Festival, she says she worked significant overtime. Orozco allegedly told her not to claim all the overtime hours she worked, “ostensibly due to a lack of city funding,” the lawsuit said.

Goodin says on at least one occasion, Orozco informed or implied to her that she was not allowed to take time off for a medical emergency because there was “too much for her to do.”

Instead of taking time off to see a doctor, Goodin says she suffered through a painful toothache for a week out of fear she’d be fired if she left work to seek medical attention, according to the lawsuit.

Violating city sexual harassment policies

Last October, Orozco hired a woman to work for the city, assisting with public records and other tasks.

The lawsuit says the woman came in to work late and left early without discipline. Orozco allegedly brought the woman coffee and other drinks, gave her money to buy lunch and paid her for her lunch breaks in violation of city policy, the lawsuit said.

“Orozco told Goodin and other employees that they needed to be nice to [her] and take her out to lunch,” the lawsuit said.

Goodin says she became concerned that Orozco’s behavior toward the woman was sexually inappropriate and violated city policies and in November, confronted him.

Orozco allegedly denied there was a sexual relationship occurring and told Goodin to be nice to the woman, adding that Goodin’s job was to do what she was told and not ask questions, the lawsuit said.

Goodin took that to mean she could be fired if she asked further questions about the relationship between the woman and Orozco or if she wasn’t nice to the woman.

Threatening physical violence

Last December, Goodin allegedly heard Orozco,” threaten to hire or direct someone to physically injure a woman because she had made a Public Records Act request to the city that Orozco apparently found disagreeable,” the lawsuit said.

Wrongful termination of Goodin

On Dec. 10, 2018 at 7:14 a.m., Goodin sent an email to Cordova and Alvarez-Roa that listed a number of concerns about Orozco, “including that he had engaged in theft, fraud, sexual harassment, waste of government resources, and misuse of government resources,” the lawsuit said.

In the email, Goodin said she was afraid of retaliation for reporting Orozco’s misconduct, including of potential bodily injury. After a short text message conversation, Alvarez-Roa told Goodin she was fired.

While that was going on — sometime between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m. — Cordova says she was in a meeting with Orozco and Rocha when Orozco received a phone call from Alvarez-Roa, according to the lawsuit.

Cordova says she heard Orozco say, “Oh, s**t, really?” after which he got up and abruptly left the room, the lawsuit said. She ran into Goodin shortly after, who told Cordova she’d been fired and to check her email.

After Goodin left, Cordova says she read the email, printed it and left City Hall briefly to call her husband. As Cordova was coming back, she says she ran into Alvarez-Roa and asked about Goodin’s email and subsequent termination.

Orozco walked into the office and Cordova called him and the mayor into a meeting, the lawsuit said.

“Alvarez-Roa admitted that she was motivated to terminate Goodin’s employment after [her] email complaint of government abuse, theft and mismanagement and that she had not planned to terminate Goodin’s employment before she received [her] email,” the lawsuit said.

Immediately following Alvarez-Roa’s statement, Orozco allegedly kicked her foot under the table, which Cordova says she understood to be an effort to get the mayor to stop talking, the lawsuit said.

Hostile work environment

Cordova openly opposed Goodin’s firing, after which she said she was ostracized by city staff.

“They withheld information necessary for her to complete her job duties, refused to speak with her and when they did interact with her, showed disdain for her,” the lawsuit said.

In one incident Cordova describes in the lawsuit, Orozco allegedly came into her office and told her to go somewhere else because he needed to use it for a confidential meeting.

Cordova left and went to sit at Goodin’s vacant desk, at which point a city employee — who had their own desk — said they needed to work using both desks, according to the lawsuit.

When Cordova went to work in another open office space in council chambers, Orozco allegedly came and told her to leave again because he might need the space for his meeting, at which point Cordova went home to do her work, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit alleges Orozco and Alvarez-Roa asked one city hall employee to file a hostile work environment grievance against Cordova and when they refused, asked Rocha to do it. She allegedly contacted a union representative, but no claim was filed, according to the lawsuit.

Wrongful termination of Cordova

Cordova says the stress of the hostile work environment led to medical issues. On Jan. 10, Cordova’s doctor placed her on medical leave for several days, which she communicated to the city and was approved by Orozco, the lawsuit said.

Five days later, the doctor extended her medical leave to Jan. 23, which Cordova again communicated to the city, according to the lawsuit.

The next day, Rocha allegedly emailed Cordova to tell her she wouldn’t be paid for that pay period because she had not recorded Jan. 1 as a holiday in the payroll system, the lawsuit said.

Cordova says she knew city employees frequently filled out timecards incorrectly — including failing to mark paid holidays — and still received their paychecks.

“Rocha, at Orozco’s direction, was attempting to withhold Cordova’s paycheck in retaliation for her opposition to Goodin’s illegal termination, for her opposition to the misconduct reported by Goodin and/or to discriminate and retaliate against her based on her disability,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit says Orozco fired her shortly after by having a city employee hand-deliver a letter to her and her husband while she was on medical leave.

Harassment

In the lawsuit, both Goodin and Cordova say they and their families have experienced harassment and intimidation by Orozco and other city employees following their termination.

Cordova says she regularly sees city employees parked outside or driving past her rural home, as well as around her business in Wapato.

She says in the lawsuit that she’s faced harassment by Orozco and other city officials on social media and in the press, who are “openly disparaging her personally, and her work performance,” the lawsuit said.

Cordova says that following an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a protective order against Orozco, someone set fire to a dumpster at the car wash she owns. In the lawsuit, she says she believes it was Orozco himself — or others at his direction — who set the fire.

“Cordova continues to fear for her safety and that of her family,” the lawsuit said.

Goodin says Orozco and city employees drive slowly past her house, follow her around town and stare at her. She alleges she’s also faced online harassment, including a video posted on social media by Alvarez-Roa in which she accuses Goodin of being a liar.

“Orozco attempted to induce Goodin’s landlord to evict her and her family in retaliation for her whistleblower report,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit says a car parked outside Goodin’s house that belonged to one of her family members was vandalized.

Goodin says she, “fears Orozco instigated that vandalism as an act of intimidation,” according to the lawsuit.

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