John Skeel has begun the process of suing his former employer, the El Dorado Hills Community Services District. On Feb. 26 he filed a tort claim against the district, outlining his claims against several named parties in broad strokes, a procedural prerequisite to a lawsuit that seeks as yet unspecified damages.
The claim alleges the district violated the former GM’s three-year employment contract by failing to establish “good cause” to support his termination.
It states that Skeel was convinced to leave a “very good position” as executive director of the Park and Recreation District in Evergreen, Colo., and move his wife and three children to California.
The tort outlines Skeel’s brief tenure as GM, which effectively ended in June 2011 when he was placed on administrative leave — the affair lingering through December when he was terminated.
Under California law the district has 45 days to accept the claim and settle with Skeel or reject it, after which Skeel has six months to file a lawsuit.
SDRMA to the rescue
The Special District Risk Management Association, a public agency that pools risk for its 460 members and provides defense counsel in employment practice lawsuits, is representing the CSD in the Skeel case.
SDRMA Risk Officer Dennis Timoney explained that the agency collects fees, assesses risk and covers settlements for its members, but is a Joint Powers Authority, not an insurance company.
“We don’t’ knee jerk react the way a commercial carrier would,” said Timoney. “We don’t drop clients just because there has been an adverse action.”
He confirmed that the agency is currently defending the district in the Debbie Kiley lawsuit as well, but that neither case would approach the district’s coverage limits or result in major fee increases.
“The El Dorado Hills CSD has been a respected member of SDRMA for years,” he said. “We’re not going to run away in their time of need. Stuff happens and now we need to work through it for the benefit of all parties involved, including John Skeel.”
Any Skeel lawsuit would end up in the superior court system, he added.
The SDRMA has hired Sacramento attorney James Ward of Evans, Wieckowski & Ward, LLP to represent the CSD in the Skeel case.
Skeel is represented by Roseville attorneys Ellen Arabian-Lee and David Daniels of Gurnee & Daniels, LLP, who made their public El Dorado Hills debut in dramatic fashion during the loud public airing of charges against Skeel on Aug. 23, 2011.
All parties are scheduled to meet in private on March 29 for a mediation, according to Arabian-Lee. Retired Yuba County Superior Court Judge Thomas Hill will be overseeing the negotiation, which could result in a settlement agreement.
Billy gets a pass
The claim names four of the five sitting CSD directors — Guy Gertsch, Noelle Mattock, Wayne Lowery and Tony Rogozinski. Director Bill Vandegrift, who voted for Skeel’s suspension but against his termination, gets a pass.
Also named are Human Resources Manager Tracey Lynn Lowry, Assistant GM Sandi Kukkola and district legal counsel Bob Thurbon and Lindsay Moore.
Witnesses that might substantiate the claim were identified as anyone working for the CSD between January and June 2011, former employees Deborah Kiley (who’s also suing the district), Janice McGrath, Kim Grinnell and Renee Scherr, plus anyone present at the Aug. 23 hearing.
The claim traces the origins of Skeel’s fall from grace to complaints about his health insurance, after which the named parties allegedly fabricated charges in an attempt to find cause to terminate him.
The results constitute “breach of contract, intentional and negligent misrepresentation, negligence, wrongful termination in violation of public policy, including whistleblower claims, retaliation, and statutory violations, including the Brown Act,” according to the claim
The claim also alleges that the claimants violated Skeel’s due process rights, failing to allow him to question key witnesses and stating publicly that they were working with him to get him back to work while actively talking to potential replacements.
Skeel is struggling to find another position because his “previously exemplary employment record has been permanently tarnished,” by “false statements about his job performance which constitute defamation of his character,” according to the claim.
Skeel also contends that as general manager, attorneys Thurbon and Moore owed him an attorney-client relationship, and that when he sought their legal advice, they divulged a proposed confidential reorganization plan to the board which contributed to his ultimate dismissal.