Terminated Atwater employee wins unemployment appeal

Former Atwater code enforcement officer Mike Teater won his first legal battle Wednesday since being terminated in May for sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment and retaliation.

The California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board granted Teater, 51, his unemployment payouts after determining that the city didn't have enough evidence to substantiate what he was terminated for.

A city employee for 16 years -- with 10 years as code enforcement officer -- Teater was put on administrative leave in February after another city employee accused him of making suggestive comments and showing her a condom.

Teater denied showing her a condom, and said she was the one who brought up the sexual topics, which included her breast size.

When it comes to misconduct in the workplace, the burden of proof falls on the employer.

Atwater failed to meet its burden of proof when it came to terminating Teater, according to Wednesday's ruling. "The employer offered weaker and less satisfactory evidence when it was within the power of the party to produce stronger and more satisfactory evidence in the form of the testimony of the female who made the allegations of sexual harassment," the ruling reads.

However, the city didn't want to subject the employee to the hearing process, leading to insufficient evidence, according to the ruling.

The decision goes on to mention how the employee's complaint against Teater was filed the same day his website -- www.insideatwatercity.info -- was launched.

The site gave an "F" grade to the woman's husband, who's also a city employee.

Teater thinks the sexual harassment claim was a way for a disgruntled employee to get back at him for his website, which has been critical of several employees. "It's too coincidental," he said after the hearing. "I know she did it in retaliation to me."

Teater said losing his job has caused his family, reputation and finances to suffer. "It makes me feel good that the city didn't call this shot," he said, adding that city officials "disregarded the law and the truth."

Teater plans to sue the city in both state and federal court, and thinks Wednesday's hearing will be an indicator of the outcome of those cases, where much of the same evidence will surface, he said.

"By their own arrogance, they're now going to federal court with me," he said. "I'm not going to take a simple apology at this point. The way I see it, it's a slam-dunk case."

Atwater City Manager Kathy Kivley, who terminated Teater soon after she was hired to the position, didn't return phone calls from the Sun-Star seeking comment.

The city has spent $22,273.89 to terminate Teater, according to a public records request received June 8. That doesn't count staff costs.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.