By Erik Galicia and Leo Cabral
A lawsuit alleging sexual discrimination, attempts to cover up illegal activities and intimidation of whistleblowers was filed against the Riverside Community College District and its chancellor Feb. 18.
Plaintiff Terri Hampton, former vice chancellor of Human Resources and Employee Relations, claims she was repeatedly subjected to Chancellor Wolde-Ab Isaac’s wrath from the time he assumed the district’s leading role, according to the lawsuit.
“Her job duties became impossible to discharge when in January 2018 Wolde-Ab Isaac became chancellor of the Riverside Community College District and began directing Plaintiff to engage in illegal activities and harassing Plaintiff and other female employees,” the complaint reads.
Allegedly, Hampton was harassed by Isaac on a daily basis for insubordination and believes RCCD has unwritten policies that in effect discriminate against women.
Dennis Walsh, the District’s attorney, said via email that RCCD and Isaac deny all claims in the lawsuit and look forward to clearing their names.
The lawsuit alleges that Isaac has used the Riverside City College Facilities Department illegally, sometimes directing custodians to perform work at his personal residence during regular work hours. It goes on to name Raymond “Chip” West, RCC vice president of Business Services, as someone who helped Isaac ensure his frequent personal use of RCC Facilities stayed off the official record.
According to the lawsuit, when Isaac communicates a work need at his home, RCC Facilities contacts a vendor and sends that vendor to his home. The vendor faxes the bill to West, who then gives the bill to Isaac for payment.
“West stated he has the invoices faxed directly to him (West) because he did not want there to be an electronic trail via email,” the complaint alleges.
West declined to comment, in accordance with district policy.
According to the complaint, Isaac has been investigated for similar activities in the past and even admitted to Hampton that RCC Facilities staff have worked at his home.
“It remains to be seen how far of an investigation was done by the college,” said Dennis Wagner, the attorney representing Hampton. “In my opinion, these were sham investigations meant to keep the status quo.”
The lawsuit also claims Isaac has attempted to refuse to work with RCCD’s chapter of the California School Employees Association, a union that represents classified staff. It claims Isaac told Hampton the RCCD Faculty Association would negotiate on behalf of the CSEA and later alleges Isaac attempted to have faculty play a role in evaluating the performance of classified staff.
Gustavo Segura, president of the CSEA, said via email that he is unaware of any instances of classified staff being discriminated against.
In the lawsuit, Isaac is accused of being “compliant, beyond appropriate measures, to the demands of the Faculty (Association.)” Hampton alleges Isaac failed to “sunshine” negotiation proposals regarding retirement incentives and retiree health issues, in effect violating collective bargaining laws. According to the complaint, Isaac told Hampton he had simply discussed those matters, not negotiated them, with the Faculty Association so a “sunshine” was unwarranted.
The lawsuit further alleges Isaac negotiated directly with the Faculty Association, a task reserved for her position.
Though unable to speak about the details of the lawsuit, members of the Faculty Association said Hampton was rarely available for direct negotiations and described their experiences working with her as disappointing.
“We welcomed (Hampton) with open arms,” said Dariush Haghighat, RCC vice president of the Faculty Association. “For a while it was good. Gradually this excitement turned into disappointment.”
The Faculty Association submitted an official inquiry of Hampton’s used sick days after experiencing many issues contacting HR. Haghighat said that it did not make sense that Hampton was present two days a week despite having a heavy workload.
“It was extremely frustrating working with her,” said Rhonda Taube, president of the Faculty Association. “She was never available.”
Taube claimed that although it was agreed that HR and the Faculty Association would meet monthly, she only met with the plaintiff twice in the span of a year and a half because Hampton would cancel most meetings. When she would email Hampton, Taube claims she would receive an automated response.
“We weren’t able to conduct the work of our business of the Faculty Association,” Taube said.
Wagner said the Faculty Association is aligned with the chancellor and also accused the RCCD Board of Trustees of continually covering for Isaac, claiming settlements have been doled out in the past to avoid further issues.
“The trustees knowingly allowed bad behavior to continue,” Wagner said. “People being paid off indicates money was spent to stop lawsuits.”
The lawsuit alleges Hampton first noticed an issue with the chancellor when in December 2017, shortly before officially assuming the position, Isaac wanted then Chief of Staff Janet Christine Carlson to be released from her contract. Isaac said Carlson was incompetent and refused to work with her, according to the complaint. Allegedly, Carlson had vocally opposed Isaac being named chancellor, leading to tension and mistrust between the two.
According to the lawsuit, a similar situation emerged with Peggy Cartwright Lomas, former associate vice chancellor of Strategic Communication. Hampton claims Cartwright was released without being allowed an opportunity to improve her performance, which was the reason for her being let go.
“(Isaac) was getting rid of people he disliked,” Wagner said.
The complaint goes on to claim Isaac attempted to force Hampton to assign higher level duties to Diana Torres, director of Human Resources and Employee Relations, without appropriate compensation while Hampton was on medical leave. When Hampton refused, Isaac became intimidating toward both women, according to the document.
Hampton claims the intimidation of women and preferential treatment of men by Isaac is habitual. According to the lawsuit, Isaac forced Hampton to present confidential labor relations information during a Board of Trustees meeting in October 2019 despite her multiple attempts to convince the chancellor that the presentation should be made in closed session.
Backlash for the presentation ensued and Isaac allegedly blamed Hamptom entirely during subsequent meetings with then Board President Tracy Vackar, RCCD’s three college presidents and CSEA E-Board members.
Those allegedly present at these meetings declined to comment, in accordance with district policy.
Wagner claimed several district employees confirmed the lawsuit’s allegations after reading the April 1 article by The Press-Enterprise on the matter.
“I can’t release their names but I’ve been contacted by several people who said I can take their deposition on the lawsuit,” Wagner said.
The Faculty Association, which drafted a press release in response to what they called a biased article in The Press-Enterprise, expressed its support for Isaac.
“We refuse to stand idly by while (Isaac’s) reputation is smeared,” the press release reads. “Never has there been a greater champion for our students and for the communities we serve. He has promoted the most able leaders regardless of gender or ethnicity.”
The Faculty Association submitted the release to The Press-Enterprise but has yet to receive a response.
Hampton is seeking compensation for medical treatment undergone due to the hostility she claims to have experienced for whistleblowing about Isaac’s alleged activities. The lawsuit claims Hampton has become physically ill, cannot sleep and has trouble performing basic daily functions.
“All she’s entitled to is financial damages,” Wagner said. “She also wants to enlighten the area as to what (Isaac) is doing.”
Members of the Faculty Association said they were shocked at the lawsuit’s allegations.
“I sincerely hope this case goes to court,” Haghighat said. “Let everyone see the truth.”