“Atmosphere” of Harassment by Former City Councilor Exposes Hanford to $ 1.25 Million Claim

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February 1, 2021 – Hanford City Council is due to meet behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss the potential lawsuit that precipitated the resignation of former city councilor Art Brieno.

Hanford’s director of community development, Darlene Mata, has filed a lawsuit against the town, alleging that she has suffered continued harassment from Brieno over the past year.

Following the complaint, the city commissioned an independent investigation into the allegations.

A complaint filed on January 6 by Rachele Berglund, Mata’s lawyer, to the city details the various allegations.

Last week, Berglund said Brieno told some people that he “didn’t trust a woman to take on the role of director of community development, that a man was better suited for the job and that he didn’t didn’t know how a woman got this job. a man. ”

According to the claim, an independent investigation initiated by city officials found that gender-based harassment was only a small part of a much larger problem.

Last June, City Manager Mario Cifuentez emailed city attorney Mario Zamora, saying Mata had just left her office “in tears” because she knew Brieno would be “angry with her” at because of a task she had to accomplish.

“This man (Brieno) creates an atmosphere where she can’t even feel comfortable doing her daily chores,” Cifuentez wrote.

The investigation report revealed further harassment at work as well as an invasion of privacy.

Brieno has reportedly told others that he wanted Mata to be fired and made negative comments about her at several board meetings.

Brieno also told another person that Mata was on stress leave, which Berglund called a privacy breach.

The complaint also details an incident in which Brieno falsely disclosed confidential information of Mata staff.

“On July 13, 2020, city prosecutor Ty Mizote was forced to send an email to Brieno following up on their July 10, 2020 meeting reminding him of” statements of a personal nature [Mata’s medical condition] should not be made about City staff at public meetings; and a city staff member should not be disciplined or fired for following the law, ”the claim said.

According to the claim, Berglund noted that Brieno’s conduct was a clear violation of the city council handbook.

The manual states that board members should “refrain at all times from rude and derogatory remarks, public criticism of staff, remarks on integrity, abusive comments and statements about prominent motives.”

Berglund said Mata was ready to take legal action against the city, but would prefer a settlement to resolve the situation “quietly and informally”.

Beginning with the January claim, Mata requested the following as terms of the settlement:

  • Brieno’s immediate resignation
  • Competent harassment training for all board members
  • A payment in the amount of $ 1.25 million

Since Brieno resigned for “health reasons”, Mata has already seen one of his requests met.

Ahead of Tuesday’s closed-door meeting, the city of Hanford issued the following statement on Monday:

“On January 20, 2021, Arthur Brieno, a member of Hanford City Council, was informed that the council would review Mr. Brieno’s alleged misconduct at a council meeting on January 26, 2021. Prior to council discussion on the question and Mr Brieno’s possible censure, Mr Brieno resigned his post on Hanford City Council, citing health reasons.

“The alleged misconduct was related to a complaint filed by a City employee for harassment and other conduct on the part of Mr. Brieno. After receiving the employee’s complaint, the City commissioned an independent investigation, which was conducted by a third party. The results of the investigation were communicated to Mr. Brieno.

“City council condemns discrimination in all its forms and will not tolerate such conduct by city officials, including members of council, its employees or anyone for that matter.

“City Council expects its members to show the utmost courtesy to City employees.

“The City values ​​each of its employees of all genders, races, religious beliefs and sexual orientations. ”

January 28, 2021 – Details of the brutal exit of former Hanford City Council member Art Brieno are slowly being revealed.

On Thursday evening, a lawyer for Darlene Mata, a senior official in the City of Hanford administration, previewed the findings of an investigation by the City of Hanford prosecutor, setting out a number of details salacious harassment by the former city councilor.

Mata, who serves as the town’s director of community development, has been on leave from municipal service because of Brieno’s targeted harassment.

Among the claims, Brieno told unspecified people that he “didn’t trust a woman to take on the role of director of community development, that a man was better suited for the job and that he didn’t know. how a woman got that job rather than a man, ”according to a statement by Mata’s lawyer Rachele Berglund.

Brieno also leaked key personnel and medical records to others and publicly ridiculed an employee’s performance – usually a decision made during a closed-door discussion in city council.

Mata’s lawyer stepped forward on Thursday to crush media claims that Brieno’s ousting stemmed from a dispute over the enforcement of the code of an auto repair company linked to Brieno – instead highlighting a wide range issues of harassment and discrimination rooted in Brieno’s conduct.

Berglund, Mata’s lawyer, notes that work is underway to resolve ongoing legal issues between her client and the city of Hanford.

This story will be updated.

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