State

Woman files unfair dismissal claim

The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department unfairly fired a woman involved in an off-duty "altercation" at a gay bar, according to her $25,000 claim against the county.

Former community service officer Karen Cadinha's claim, dated Nov. 16, comes in the wake of top-level criticism for a cluster of legal actions against the department filed by former female employees.

The incident at the Brave Bull had nothing to do with her "duties or responsibilities" and her termination was "arbitrary, capricious and was done in bad faith," reads the claim, submitted by Sacramento attorney Etan Rosen. He did not return calls Wednesday.

Sheriff Adam Christianson said, "This is a personnel matter and it is not appropriate for me to discuss it." County supervisors Tuesday referred the claim to their risk management office; such claims can be precursors to lawsuits.

Without admitting wrongdoing, county leaders four weeks ago agreed to pay three female sheriff's records clerks a combined $545,000 to settle a lawsuit days before its trial date. The county also spent about $310,000 on legal fees, plus more dealing with two other sexual harassment lawsuits brought by former female employees of the department.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim DeMartini has criticized the Sheriff's Department for shunning the county's standard sexual harassment training. It's the only one among 27 county departments to conduct its own training and has been disproportionately targeted in lawsuits by female employees.

Cadinha, 50, began work Oct. 1, 2008, and scored satisfactory marks in a performance evaluation Aug. 11. Three supervisors praised her contributions.

"One of my goals is to change the public's perception of the Sheriff's Department as a whole. I feel sometimes we let our attitudes get in the way of helping the public," Cadinha wrote in her goals and objectives.

"This is exceptional! Thank you!" reads a handwritten note with an arrow to Cadinha's statement, in the same distinctive script as another signed by Christianson, with a star dotting the "i" in "Sheriff."

A box labeled "End of probation" is checked off in the evaluation, and Capt. Tim David wrote, "Congratulations on passing probation." But Cadinha's termination letter, dated Sept. 2, said she was being "released from your employment as a probationary community service officer."

The letter was sent one day after an investigation into the Aug. 28 incident at south Modesto's Brave Bull, a gay nightspot with weekly drag shows that also draws heterosexual patrons. Cadinha was involved but "did not instigate the altercation nor was she cited," the claim reads.

Speaking generically, Christianson on Wednesday said standard probation for new community service officers is 18 months.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or 578-2390.

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