County to pay $300K in wrongful termination suit
Tulare County has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a former District Attorney’s Office employee.
In the complaint, Todd Zocchi, a former deputy district attorney, alleged his termination by Tulare County District Attorney Phillip Cline was retaliatory because he filed a sexual harassment complaint against his former supervisor, Assistant District Attorney Shani Jenkins.
County officials, however, said the decision to terminate Zocchi was made before Zocchi filed any sexual harassment complaint. Cline alleged he had valid non-discriminatory reasons for Zocchi’s termination and that the claims of retaliation were without merit.
Prior to Zocchi’s sexual harassment claim, Jenkins reportedly made a complaint to Cline in November 2011 alleging harassment and threatening behavior by Zocchi towards her.
Cline reportedly referred her complaint to county authorities. Zocchi did not file his complaint alleging sexual harassment until after his employment was terminated, according to a news release issued Tuesday.
Both Zocchi’s and Jenkins’ claims were investigated by an independent investigator hired by the County. The investigator found Zocchi was not sexually harassed or the subject of retaliation. The investigation disclosed that Zocchi engaged in conduct unwelcome and personally offensive to Jenkins and that accordingly there was evidence of violation of county policy by Zocchi.
Zocchi filed a government tort claim against Tulare County on June 29, resulting in mediation and settlement.
In the settlement agreement, Zocchi agreed to dismiss all claims regarding his employment with the county.
Neither the county, Cline or Jenkins admitted any wrongdoing, the release states.
The county will pay $300,000, the DA will rescind Zocchi’s termination, and Zocchi agreed to resign effective Oct. 18, the date the agreement was reached.
In addition, Zocchi has waived his right to be re-employed by the county and has agreed not to seek such employment.
Tulare County Counsel Kathleen Bales-Lange issued the following statement regarding the settlement:
“There are many reasons the Board of Supervisors may have in choosing to settle a claim.
These reasons do not always have to do with the merit, or lack of merit, of a particular claim. In addition to substantial defense costs the board must also consider the disruption to the public’s business a civil lawsuit brings, including the consumption of time of county employees. It was in the best interest of the District Attorney’s Office and the county to settle the matter.”