SCV Water staffer sues agency, claiming retaliation

Santa Clarita Valley Water Agency
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A staffer at the SCV Water agency is suing the agency over the harsh treatment he alleges he received after he raised concerns in whistleblower fashion about what he considered wrongdoing.

A lawyer for the agency said Tuesday the allegations were taken seriously, investigated, and it was concluded that no law was broken.

Paul Halushka was a senior inspector with the agency’s predecessor, the Castaic Lake Water Agency, and remained a senior inspector after the CLWA merged with the Newhall County Water District to become SCV Water.

Halushka, with 12 years’ experience working with both prior agencies, said he always received “uniformly excellent performance reviews” — except for the last one he was given in July.

His less-than-excellent performance review in July, he alleges, was “in retaliation for his complaints and disclosures” listing an alleged wrongdoing spelled out in a 25-page civil complain.

Halushka was passed over for promotions and docked wages, he said, after he exposed this wrongdoing, claiming the resulting harsh treatment he endured was a violation of California’s labor code 1102.5, which spells out protection for whistleblowers.

The civil suit was filed with the Superior Court of Los Angeles on Aug. 1.

When the SCV Water Agency board met two weeks ago, board members closed out the meeting by going behind closed doors to discuss court case 19STCV27352.

Internal probe

Agency lawyer Tom Bunn said the allegations are being taken seriously.

“Mr. Halushka made many allegations about SCV Water and some of its employees in his lawsuit,” Bunn said Tuesday in a written statement.

“SCV Water took these allegations seriously and has conducted an internal investigation on many of the issues he raised,” he said in his reply. “No evidence of unlawful behavior has been uncovered so far. For complete transparency, SCV Water also transmitted Mr. Halushka’s complaint to several regulatory and enforcement agencies, and it will cooperate in any inquiry they may choose to undertake.”

“As this is a personnel matter, further comment on the litigation is inappropriate, but we intend to defend the lawsuit vigorously,” Bunn added.

Halushka claims in his lawsuit that some agency officials received kickbacks on deals, falsified contracts, rigged bids, double-charged on projects, pressured developers to hire select vendors and allowed contractors to avoid paying prevailing wages as required by law.

Whistleblowing

In his lawsuit, Halushka said he told agency officials he would blow the whistle on them and their wrongdoing, specifically telling them he shared his allegations with the Office of the California Attorney General, the California Department of Industrial Relations and other agencies.

When he did this, he alleges, the “defendants began harassing and retaliating against him.” 

Specifically, according to Halushka, water officials and at least one contractor carried out a smear campaign of “anybody but Halushka” when it came to filling the position of inspection supervisor.

Water officials conspired to rig the job requirements for the position of inspection supervisor, he alleges, by extending the job opening and by revising the job’s description in order to promote who they wanted in the position.

Also in retaliation, Halushka alleges, he was the victim of an “improper suspension” for three days in March with a loss of pay.

Agency officials also put him on a “performance improvement plan” from March 14, 2019, through April 30, 2019, under threat of further discipline.

Halushka alleges they threatened to fire him and, on July 3, denied him his “expected and deserved 5% pay raise.”

Emotional distress

Halushka says in his complaint that he “suffered severe emotional distress, has been damaged financially as a result of his loss of pay, fringe benefits, current and future pay raises, the promotion to inspector supervisor, as well as expected future promotions.”

As a consequence of these alleged retaliations, Halushka is seeking compensatory damages for loss or current and future pay, fringe benefits, raises and promotions.

Eliminating redundancy

The SCV Water Agency began operating officially on Jan. 1, 2018, after two years of crafting a merger between the now-defunct water wholesaler — the Castaic Lake Water Agency — and former water retailer, Newhall County Water District, one of Santa Clarita Valley’s oldest water retailers.

In the months leading up to the new agency becoming an official legal entity, members of both CLWA and NCWD told SCV ratepayers there would be cost-efficiency and money saved by eliminating redundancy. One of the recurring topics of discussion during the merger was reducing redundancy and maintaining economies of scale through job attrition.

Six months into its operation, board members adopted their first budget as a newly consolidated all-encompassing water agency, reporting a projected savings of nearly $6 million for the Santa Clarita Valley.

[email protected] 

661-287-5527 

On Twitter: @jamesarthurholt

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