On March 10, a “Case Management Conference” was held in the suit against Tulare County by former Tulare County Animal Control (TCAC) employees Paul Grenseman and Julia Jimenez. A date for a jury trial was set for December 7. Before the trial, a court ordered mediation must be accomplished no later than October 22, to see if a settlement can be reached. The case is assigned to Judge Brett Hillman.
On December 4, 2013, Grenseman and Jimenez, both working for TCAC, were “walked off the job” and told that they were under investigation and being put on administrative leave. Jimenez was subsequently fired on July 2, 2014, and Grenseman retired on June 5 of that year. Last November, Grenseman and Jimenez filed suit in Tulare County Superior Court against five Tulare County employees and the county. The plaintiffs are suing for discrimination, racial/ethnic and sexual harassment, failure to prevent discrimination and failure to prevent harassment as well retaliation for objecting to, speaking out against, and complaining of illegal discrimination and harassment.
To defend itself against Grenseman and Jimenez, the county has retained McCormick Barstow LLP, a national law firm with 89 lawyers. The law firm, founded in Fresno 51 years ago, represents major real estate developers and farmers, and fought a recent case against legendary pilot Chuck Yeager. The lawyer who will be presenting the case against Grenseman and Jimenez is Michael Woods, a McCormick Barstow partner with 30 years’ experience. It is unknown why the county chose to hire an expensive outside law firm and not use someone from their pool of 20 lawyers usually hired by Tulare County to take on such cases.
Another development in the case is that a defendant, who previously could not be found, has resurfaced. Yessica Ozuna, who quit her job at TCAC right after Jimenez and Grenseman were put under investigation, came forward a few weeks ago. She called Melo and Sarsfield, the plaintiff’s law firm, and set up a time and place to be served. The county is representing Ozuna and they have entered/filed a general denial on her behalf. Jimenez is alleging that Ozuna created a fake Facebook page in order to send inflammatory messages about Jimenez and her acquaintances.
It was also reported that, after being interviewed by McCormick Barstow, defendant Shawn Mathis abruptly quit her job. Mathis is suspected of sending harassing letters and making harassing phone calls to and against Jimenez.
More allegations about sexual misconduct by one of the defendants has come to light. Melo and Sarsfield will be using these allegations in their case against the county. Jimenez was accused of exposing her breasts as one of the reasons for her termination. At Jimenez’ Employment Development Department trial in January those individuals to which she supposedly exposed herself have signed affidavits stating that the allegations are false.
In the meantime, one of the defendants in the case was known by the county to have engaged in several instances of sexual misconduct, such as oral copulation and unwanted sexual advances to a fellow employee. Melo and Sarsfield will point out in court that the county cannot pick and choose who to fire over sexual misconduct. If Jiminez’s actions were deemed so reprehensible as to be fired, than performing oral sex at the work place should be on the county’s list of offenses worthy of termination also.
Tulare County and the five current and former county employees named in the suit have entered “denials.” Denials are similar to a “not guilty” in a criminal case. Right now both sides are in the discovery phase of the case.