Stanislaus County will pay $545,000 to three Sheriff's Department employees to avoid a trial next week over claims of workplace harassment and retaliation, if the Board of Supervisors accepts the agreement.
Lawyers reached the final part of the tentative settlement Tuesday night. The supervisors will consider it at a meeting next month.
"We think it's a good settlement," Stanislaus County Counsel John Doering said.
Sheriff's employees Alejandra Arenivaz, Jackie Bernal, Charmaine Morad-Daniel and Marlena Younan filed the lawsuit in July 2008, alleging that top officials in the department retaliated against them for raising concerns about racial discrimination.
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Morad-Daniel was the last to settle, her attorney, Jeffrey Hubins, said.
Bernal and Younan reached agreements last week, Hubins said. Arenivaz dropped her claims against the department in September.
Hubins said he was pleased to avoid a trial.
"They were very well compensated for their injuries," he said. "It's unfortunate that they were compensated in one sense, because that means they were wronged."
The county does not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement. Doering described the supervisors' direction to end the case as a "business decision" based on the potential risks of going to trial and the opportunity to close the case.
Stanislaus County has insurance to cover the entire cost of the settlement. Its policy calls on the county to pay the first $250,000 of litigation costs, after which the insurance company covers the bills. The county has spent about $310,000 on its defense through a private attorney, fees that are part of the overall insurance tab.
Sheriff Adam Christianson said he lobbied the supervisors to go to trial. He maintains that the claims were meritless.
"My preference would've been to go to the mat, to go to trial because the sheriff and the Sheriff's Department have done nothing wrong," he said.
Morad-Daniel would receive the lion's share of the settlement — $400,000. She alleged that Undersheriff Bill Heyne had referred to her as an "organizational terrorist." She has been on leave from the department for the past year.
Bernal, a former records clerk, is to receive $125,000. She was passed over for promotion to records manager and said she was asked how she would handle Morad-Daniel during the interview.
Younan, a Sheriff's Department legal clerk, is to receive $20,000.
The trial was expected to begin Tuesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Christianson is sticking by Heyne.
"We established a new standard of treating employees fairly and consistently," he said, referring to his election in 2006. "Unfortunately, when you hold people accountable, sometimes they seek lawyers."
Superior Court Judge Roger Beauchesne on Oct. 6 limited the scope of the lawsuit when he dismissed several claims from Bernal and Younan in which they alleged they were victims of harassment and the county's failure to prevent that harassment.
Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2366.