Attorneys for former El Dorado Hills Community Services District General Manager John Skeel filed a civil suit on April 20 against the CSD, four of its directors, Human Resources Manager Tracey Lynn Lowry, district legal counsel Bob Thurbon and Lindsey Moore, and their firm, Thurbon and McHaney, LP.
The lawsuit, or “complaint for damages,” alleges the following specific legal complaints:
• Breach of written employment contract
• Breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing;
• Tortious interference with contract
• Fraudulent inducement of contract
• Fraudulent breach of contract
• Intentional misrepresentation
• Negligent misrepresentation
• Negligence causing breach of contract
• Legal malpractice
• Breach of fiduciary duty
• Intentional infliction of emotional distress
• Violation of labor code §201
The complaint alleges that the board didn’t disclose the district’s “dysfunctional” employee morale when recruiting Skeel, or that Human Resources Manger Tracey Lynn Lowry had a “history of retaliating against employees who crossed her,” resulting in “numerous terminations,” some of whom were replaced with her friends.
Skeel was also not informed that Lowry was a close friend of Director Noelle Mattock. Skeel crossed both of them within days of his arrival in January 2011 over a dispute about his health coverage start date. He told Village Life at the time that his entire family was battling severe colds.
The complaint alleges that Mattock pushed the coverage date to Feb. 1, despite a “written promise” from Lowry that coverage would commence when he started work.
Skeel raised the matter in a closed session meeting, which “enraged” Mattock, turning his inaugural board meeting into “a disaster,” according to the complaint.
A later request for reimbursement of his medical expense for January was refused.
The complaint cites the incident as the root of retaliation against him by Lowry and especially Mattock, who acted “hostile and negative” then stopped talking to him completely, creating “a tangled web of behind-the-scenes undermining and manipulation,” according to the complaint.
Skeel arrived in time for the 2011-12 budget process. According to the complaint, the board directed him to cut $100,000.00, including “the use of contract staff rather than full-time employees.”
Since the district had just 29 full-time employees, plus roughly 150 part timers, mostly in the summer, the $80,000-plus Human Resources manager position seemed to Skeel like an obvious starting point, according to the complaint.
The complaint describes Skeel working the numbers with the Finance Manager Sherry Shannon, and concluding that the assistant GM position could also be eliminated or reduced.
His draft plan outsourced the HR function and moved Assistant GM Sandi Kukkola to a vacant director position.
Skeel solicited the advice of district legal counsel Thurbon and Moore, “regarding how to present this delicate matter to the board,” according to the complaint, which also quotes a May 31, 2011, e-mail to Moore.
“. . . [T]here are important issues that need to be openly discussed and resolved so that relationally and operationally things run more smoothly. This should be a priority as changes to the 2011/12 budget is one major items [sic] that is related to the conversation and needs to be discussed with the board asap.”
The complaint alleges that Thurbon and Moore told Skeel their discussions would be confidential, but told the board that he planned to fire Lowry and Kukkola without board approval and, as such, “must be stopped.”
The actions of Thurbon and Moore constitute “an improper attorney-client disclosure, breach of fiduciary duty and misrepresentation,” according to the complaint, which goes on to describe a tense closed session board meeting on June 9 where Skeel presented the draft reorganization plan, which was “summarily rejected.”
Eleven days later Skeel was placed on paid leave. The complaint accuses the board of “numerous and obvious misrepresentations” about the nature of the leave of absence, including describing it as “voluntary … for personal reasons,” which resulted in numerous awkward inquiries from the staff and public.
Thurbon and Moore subsequently prepared formal charges against Skeel, alleging that Lowry had reported employees “buddy punching” and qualified as a protected “whistleblower,” and that Skeel’s actions constituted retaliation against a whistleblower — a violation of employment agreement.
Skeel hired a lawyer and requested a public hearing to respond to the charges. His attorneys requested permission to depose Lowry and Kukkola either before or during the hearing, according to the complaint. Their request was denied and neither attended the hearing.
But an estimated 150 residents did and many spoke on Skeel’s behalf.
The employees accused of “buddy punching” ignored their union representative’s advice and presented information that made it clear that the issue was “nothing but a ruse,” according to the complaint. Neither was ever formally accused.
During the hearing, Thurbon’s charges were refuted by Skeel’s lawyers.
The resulting public outcry was overwhelmingly in favor of reinstatement. Later that week, the board issued a press release stating they would “suspend and defer” the termination, and create a “remediation plan” that would allow Skeel to “correct performance deficiencies … and return to his duties.”
But it was not to be. Over the next three-and-a-half months the board held 20 closed session meetings. According to the complaint, Skeel was invited to just three.
On Sept. 30, 2011, Skeel received an 29 page remediation document authored by Thurbon and Moore that the complaint calls “adversarial.”
He met with the board twice more, but got no response after the Oct. 25 meeting and was terminated on Dec. 8, 2011.
Attorney Moore created a termination document that reiterated the charges, but ignored the facts that came out during the public hearing.
The board issued a press release arguing that they’d made a “strong and genuine” effort to address and resolve performance issues with their general manager.
Skeel argues in the complaint that no such effort was ever made, and that the board’s actions simply “prolonged things so that individual board members could attempt to smooth over their own reputations” at a cost of “countless hours and thousands of taxpayer dollars.”
Skeel states in the complaint that despite his best efforts, the termination has prevented him from landing a comparable job and that his previously untarnished record in public service has been irreparably damaged, as has his “financial and emotional” well-being.
Skeel and the board squabbled publicly about their failure to agree on goals and objectives. He also claims he never received an unsatisfactory performance review.
The fourth cause of action, “fraudulent inducement of contract,” argues that Skeel was hired as the “top managerial position in the district,” but the complaint alleges that the evidence of 2011 is that the board and Lowry were calling the shots all along.