The Grade Blog

Monday, Jan 06 2014 05:01 PM

District withholds details on whistleblower lawsuit settlement terms

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    John Fox is one of three maintenance and operations administrators fired by Kern High School District.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer

The Kern High School District has finally reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed by two former employees who alleged they were wrongfully terminated more than two years ago for calling attention to the way maintenance contracts were awarded.

The lawsuits filed in September 2011 sought several million dollars for lost wages, retirement benefits and emotional distress.

Neither side Monday would discuss specific terms of the agreement.

The district had originally reached an agreement in August with John Fox and Clemon Williams Jr., formerly assistant directors in the district's maintenance and operations department, but settlement talks broke down at the last minute when attorneys were unable to agree on specifics.

Attorneys in the dispute finally reached a deal in November, and a request to dismiss the case was filed in Kern County Superior Court.

Legal settlements paid for with public money are public record. There is no legal basis for withholding details from public disclosure.

The plaintiffs said they noticed a change in the way contracts were being handled after the district hired Larry Patrick as the director of maintenance and operations in 2003.

They claimed that instead of putting construction and repair jobs out for formal bid or obtaining estimates for work in compliance with state law, the jobs were awarded to particular companies.

For instance, nearly all roofing projects went to Garland Roofing Co. and its subsidiary, Commercial Roofing Systems Inc.; all carpeting contracts went to Collins & Aikman, and Metro Floors Inc.

Fox and Williams criticized in the lawsuit what they saw as "needless, wasteful" spending in their department, as well as "kickbacks, bribes and improper gifts" construction companies allegedly were giving KHSD employees.

Patrick died in 2009. A year later his successor, Steve Tolin, placed Fox and Williams on paid administrative leave after they received negative performance evaluations. They were replaced and forced out in 2011, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit contended the pair were effectively terminated as retribution for whistleblowing.

All of the companies named in the lawsuit had denied any wrongdoing, as did the district.

Fox declined to comment on the settlement Monday, referring questions to attorney Michael Dolan, who represents both plaintiffs. Dolan did not respond to several requests for comment.

Williams couldn't be reached for comment.

KHSD spokesman John Teves declined to comment and referred questions to the district's lawyer.

KHSD attorney Leonard Herr confirmed that a settlement had been reached in November but declined to provide specifics.

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