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Wrongful termination lawsuit against former Vallejo officials moves forward sans harassment cause of action

Anne Cardwell

Anne Cardwell, previously the interim city manager of Vallejo, will join the city of Napa as its finance director next week. 

Napa's newly named finance director has been dropped from part of a wrongful termination suit in Vallejo.

A Solano County judge agreed Monday to dismiss the part of a lawsuit that accused then-Vallejo Assistant City Manager Anne Cardwell and other city employees of harassing, or not responding to harassment of, city employees who tried to report discrimination by another city official.

Cardwell's hiring in Napa was announced Tuesday. In an interview with the Register on Tuesday, Cardwell didn't mention that the harassment claim had been dropped by the judge the previous day.

Three more sections of the lawsuit remain active, including a defamation claim that names the city of Napa’s Human Resources Director Heather Ruiz, who was Vallejo's top HR official at the time.

The lawsuit, filed to Solano County Superior Court on Feb. 9 by three former high-ranking Vallejo city employees, named the city of Vallejo, and several top-level employees at the time, including former Vallejo city manager Greg Nyhoff, Ruiz, and Cardwell, as defendants.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege, among much else, that they’re whistleblowers fired for raising concerns about Nyhoff’s leadership.

“We are pleased with the rulings ... which means we are moving forward on claims of whistleblower retaliation, retaliation under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, and defamation,” said Randall Strauss, attorney for the plaintiffs, in an emailed statement. “We will be proceeding with discovery, including taking depositions of Greg Nyhoff, key City Councilmembers, and other city officials under penalty of perjury.”

Cardwell formerly served as interim city manager for Vallejo for about two months, after the abrupt disappearance and resignation of Nyhoff, who’s been named in multiple lawsuits and walked away from the city in early July with a $577,536 separation agreement.

The harassment claim was the only section of the suit — of four total — that specifically named Cardwell as a defendant. Cardwell has not been completely removed from the lawsuit, however, according to a representative from the Gwilliam Ivary Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer law firm, which is representing the plaintiffs, since she was part of the city administration at the time.

The remaining portions of the lawsuit argue that the plaintiffs were whistleblowers and the defendants allegedly illegally retaliated against the plaintiffs and defamed them.

Among other allegations, the now-dismissed portion of the suit alleged Cardwell and Ruiz conspired with Judy Shepard-Hall — Vallejo’s housing and community development program manager — to terminate the plaintiffs for reporting her alleged discriminatory and harassing conduct against an African American employee.

The Monday court documents say the plaintiffs haven’t “alleged facts establishing that they were subjected to unwelcome harassment based on some protected characteristic.”

“All Plaintiffs allege is that they were subject to adverse employment actions in retaliation for complaining that another employee was being harassed on the basis of race or that Defendants failed to adequately investigate their claims of harassment,” according to the documents. “But, personnel management actions cannot form the bases for a claim of harassment.”

The court documents go on to say, however, that the plaintiffs adequately alleged they were terminated in retaliation for several reasons.

The documents also say the plaintiffs have also adequately alleged that Ruiz “published false defamatory per se statements that Plaintiffs committed ‘embezzlement and illegal activity’ to former colleagues.”

No trial date has been set.

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You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.

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