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However, “Defendant Lembo also knew that the Plaintiff was only one of two male counselors in the Plaintiff’s department, and the Plaintiff had the lowest level of seniority. As a result, most of the bathroom monitor duties would fall onto the Plaintiff.”

Johnson asserts that in his department he “could routinely interact with up to 25 male clients a day” and that bathroom monitoring took “a great deal of time and effort away from him, and other counselors, in the performance of their main job duties.” According to Johnson’s suit, “Lembo sought to demean and humiliate” him. One of his coworkers “even made a drawing of someone wearing a gas mask with the caption ‘Barry Johnson, Lavatory Monitor,’” the suit says.

In August of 2008, as the agency conducted its investigation, Johnson was placed on paid administrative leave. “Placing the Plaintiff on administrative leave for ‘whistle-blowing’ was unlawful hostile, harassing and retaliatory conduct,” says Johnson’s suit. After returning from administrative leave in early September, according to the suit, Johnson was “re-assigned to a new clinical supervisor”; his hours were changed such that he “was required to work until 7:30 p.m., two nights a week even though he had no client appointments”; and “all of his personal belongings had been packed into boxes.”

Ultimately, according to Johnson, South Bay Community Services settled his lawsuit out of court, and he was awarded $80,000, or the equivalent of two years’ pay. Johnson’s settlement did not include a confidentiality clause.

Johnson had a personal relationship with Alicia Guido, who worked for the agency from June 2006 until February 2009. Her May 2009 lawsuit listed eight causes of action. The agency moved for a summary judgment — a decision without a trial. The judge ruled that the case could go forward on four causes of action: “Discrimination and/or Harassment,” “Failure to Prevent Discrimination,” “Wrongful Termination,” and “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress.”

Guido was fired, according to her suit, because of a violation of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the privacy of clients. Guido’s suit states that on Friday, January 30, 2009, she left the office with client files to work on at home and that the associate manager saw her leave. “As the plaintiff was making her way out through the [organization’s] building she was met by Dina Chavez, Associate Director Manager for [the agency]. Ms. Chavez is second-in-command at [South Bay Community Services]. Ms. Chavez saw the plaintiff carrying the files and said to plaintiff ‘it looks like someone is working from home.’ The plaintiff responded to Ms. Chavez that she had some files to review and prepare over the weekend,” the lawsuit states.

The suit goes on to say that Guido placed the files in the trunk of her car and drove away. “Shortly thereafter, the plaintiff received voice mail messages from Ms. Chavez and Ms. Brew to return the files to the [agency’s] building.” The following Monday, Guido was fired. Guido’s lawsuit states that the agency’s “policy permits, encourages and advises employees how to access [agency] files from home computers and laptops.” It also states, “If Ms. Chavez believed [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] and/or [agency] policy was about to be broken by the plaintiff when Ms. Chavez saw and spoke to the plaintiff about the files before the plaintiff left the [agency’s] building, then Ms. Chavez should have taken some type of action as the Associate Director…to prevent the plaintiff from potentially violating any law or policies.”

Termination of employment, Guido’s suit says, was due to the fact that Guido “had a close personal relationship with a former [agency] employee Barry Johnson…a disfavored [agency] employee, because he had made an internal [agency] complaint against the defendants [South Bay Community Services] and Lembo.”

According to Guido’s suit, “On or after July 2008, and after Mr. Johnson made his complaints via [the agency’s] internal process, the defendants unlawfully harassed the plaintiff in order to disrupt her relationship with Mr. Johnson. Specifically, Ms. Chavez…personally questioned the plaintiff about her relationship with Mr. Johnson. At the same time, Ms. Chavez also suggested to the plaintiff, that she instead date others, besides Mr. Johnson.… Ms. Chavez also inquired of other [agency] employees regarding the plaintiff’s relationship with Mr. Johnson, and suggested to these employees that plaintiff date others. One such [agency] employee told the plaintiff, that Ms. Chavez had contacted him and that Ms. Chavez had encouraged him to date the plaintiff.”

The family therapist who filed suit in 2006 listed defamation and battery as causes of action. According to her suit, the agency “discharged Plaintiff in retaliation for making a reasonable, good faith refusal to violate the relevant laws.” Two days after discussing her concerns with the clinical director, human resources director Ismena Valdez “informed Plaintiff she was terminated and must leave immediately,” the suit says. “Plaintiff was not allowed to obtain her personal things from her office or say farewell to any coworkers. When Plaintiff was not moving fast enough, Valdez grabbed her on the arm and pulled her along the corridor. Plaintiff was shocked and embarrassed by Valdez’s demeaning behavior.”

Oversight of South Bay Community Services comes from a board of directors comprising influential Chula Vistans, such as former Chula Vista city manager David Rowlands and, until recently, Chula Vista chief of police David Bejarano. Shirley Horton, a former assemblymember and mayor of Chula Vista, left the Downtown San Diego Partnership last August to take a staff position at South Bay Community Services. As director of development, she raises funds for the organization.

Two members of the agency’s upper management, directors Mauricio Torre and Dina Chavez, sit on the City of Chula Vista’s Housing Advisory Commission. This commission influences decisions that directly affect the finances of South Bay Community Services. According to the City’s website, the commission “assesses the housing needs in the City and reviews housing policies, strategies, and proposed affordable housing projects.” It advises the city council, housing authority, and redevelopment agency. South Bay Community Services owns a number of affordable-housing rental properties in Chula Vista, purchased, in part, with federal grant monies awarded by the City of Chula Vista.

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Comments

Pancho Feb. 16, 2011 @ 7:53 p.m.

Very informative article. You really did your homework on this one. I think there must be some level of conflict of interest in regards to SBCS folk sitting on the housing commission. Maybe their argument is that they are a non-profit and that makes it okay, but other commissions have outside agency liaisons advising them. I think that would be more ethical.

I do see the good that SBCS services does in the community, but at times I think they also stretch themselves too thin and not sticking to their core mission. I have never understood why so many influential Chula Vistans have been involved with this group as in on their Board of Directors. I may have missed it, but did you know that former Councilmember Patty Chavez also works for SBCS? Very interesting. Great job!

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VigilantinCV Feb. 16, 2011 @ 8:43 p.m.

The first time I ever saw Kathy Lembo was in Spring 2008. There she was trying to get EastLake Developer Bill Ostrem's "Riverwalk" project for 500 condos approved near KOA. Fortunately 80 people who actually lived in the area showed up bent on preventing that! Next I encountered her and Lisa Johnson (YMCA) trying to sell the city council on letting them build units in Eucalyptus Park, ostensibly to better serve all those needy clients that Chula Vista, etc., pour imoney nto their coffers. That didn't work but they recently bought the Trolley Trestle property. I have seen a list of properties they own and I was amazed. It seems Kathy Lembo is like Lucy in Charlie Brown......she wants real estate! And she has friends in high places that are willing to help her.

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chulavistaguy5 Feb. 17, 2011 @ 8:09 a.m.

Very interesting and well researched article. While I believe this agency has done good work in the community, the allegations which have been made by Mr. Johnson and the other past employees listed in the article speak to a culture of fraud and very poor management practices at SBCS. The story leaves the question hanging: are all of these employees lying about falsification which they say they witnessed at various different times and places or is Ms. Lembo's categorical denial of falsification less than truthful. I guess each reader will have to make that determination but it has been my experience that where there is smoke there is almost always fire.

Given the great deal of public money that has been granted to SBCS, at a minimum, there should be a compete external and independent top to bottom audit of the organization. Also, because of the seriousness and consistency of claims of past falsification at SBCS, a grand jury investigation should also be strongly considered. If the allegations made by these past employees are proved correct, senior management should be shown the door and perhaps face legal consequences for their actions.

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Evelyn Feb. 17, 2011 @ 9:01 a.m.

Issues like the ones presented in the article arise when there's bad management, and when the non profit only cares about money.

Additionally, there's no mention of this, but I wonder as to the educational level reached by the employees, and, specifically, by the directors of the programs and of the organization. Much harm can come to others when the person trying to 'help' doesn't know what is and isn't okay.

The only way the teens and families receiving services could have been counted for multiple grants would be if the individuals were receiving services from multiple grants. To increase the numbers that don't exist, berate employees for standing up for the right thing and lying for the sake of money is just despicable. It's organizations like these, with unskilled workers that give all other social workers and all other non profits a bad reputation.

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daringdarin Feb. 17, 2011 @ 9:21 a.m.

Let's not forgot the recent scandal when this agency gave its Board Member Bejarano a $97000 contract with his private security firm. That article implied that this may have broken State law and the matter was falsely or incorrectly reported to the IRS. The article said that the IRS directly asked - Does any board member have a financial relationship with the agency? The agency answered NO- which was false. They claimed it was a mistake after getting caught. The contract was then cancelled and now it appears Bejarano is off the board.I don't know if anyone was ever held accountable for issuing that $97000 contract. this info was in the June 30 2010 Reader issue.

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cvres Feb. 17, 2011 @ 12:08 p.m.

No doubt they do good work as an earlier commenter mentions, but as that commenter also says they have been the pet project of many influential Chula Vistans -- with connections you get grant money??? It's also ironic that there is a big homeless camp located near their facility--ironic because this article says they have homes for the homeless.

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Susan Luzzaro Feb. 17, 2011 @ 9:41 p.m.

chulavistaguy, I think any organization that subsists on public subsidies should have to open the books and should be subject to public record requests.
There are SBCS audits by county agencies but the depth is unclear.

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joepublic Feb. 18, 2011 @ 8:42 a.m.

Since this organization is funded primarily by taxpayers’ dollars, aren’t they essentially public employees. Shouldn’t the public have input about the amount of money WE give to SBCS and how it is spent. Apparently the workers who actually provide services at SBCS make far less than their managers. Do we know what the other administrators are paid? With all the recent scrutiny of public expenditures why has this privatized “public” agency been allowed to operate under the radar? Pancho may have hit the nail on the head when he commented that he never understood why so many influential Chula Vistans have sat on their Board of Directors.

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elgy Feb. 24, 2011 @ 7:49 a.m.

i've known the women involved with SBCS for many years. they are dedicated, hard-working, compassionate people. i believe the writer should have tried harder to present both sides of this story. i don't care much for reading articles that try to sway public opinion by putting a spin ONLY on certain parts of the story. i noticed a small group of disgruntled employees and a lot of whining and loose flying accusations, taken as "truths" long before the truth is actually known. obviously this is real life, and everyone and everything doesn't work out. everyone everywhere is trying to cut back to stay within their means. SBCS is taking this responsibility very seriously by the looks of it. and one this is certain. SBCS would be nothing without kathy lembo. we in the south bay must count ourselves lucky that someone with such dedication, and who is so good at what they do, is willing to spend her life's work in our community, making it a better place to live. this article is one that tries to chip away at the very foundation of what makes our little portion of the map good...what makes it strong...what makes it WORK. hearsay, spinning, gossip... please, next time, do a better job of at least TRYING to show both sides. not everyone in this world believes everything they read. the writer needs to give us readers credit for the ability to MAKE OUR OWN CONCLUSIONS.

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Susan Luzzaro Feb. 24, 2011 @ 5:09 p.m.

Thank you for your comments elgy. I believe no one has suggested that SBCS does not do good work. As for loose flying accusations, hearsay, spinning, gossip, I refer you back to the article. The article is solidly based on sworn statements and court documents.

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VigilantinCV Feb. 24, 2011 @ 11:03 p.m.

elgy,you are so eager to say good things about your friends you miss the point. A great deal of taxpayer money is being spent by SBCS and they need to be held accountable! And since when is it okay to falsify records, to abuse employees and then exact retribution when they seek fairness. This article spread a healthy amount of light on a subject that needed it! I hope there will be a sequel.

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elgy Feb. 24, 2011 @ 11:26 p.m.

yes, susan, i guess you are the author? well, since you find it ethical to comment on YOUR OWN article, i guess i'll deal with you. "solidly based on sworn statements and court documents" still does NOT present both sides, now does it? i'd like to see sworn statements by people who AREN'T disgruntled, people who don't have anything to gain by the spin, innuendo, gossip, people who aren't in intimate "relationships" with these sworn statements, people who are credible and on the opposite side. only THEN can i come to an EDUCATED conclusion. at least do me the favor of coming to my own conclusion, and not YOUR "sworn" conclusions. i suppose you also believe no one ever lies when sworn in? and no, i'm not friends with the women at SBCS. but if they ever left, we, as residents of CV, would be the poorer for it, and i'm not speaking financially.

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David Dodd Feb. 25, 2011 @ 1:28 a.m.

elgy, where did you learn that it somehow isn't ETHICAL for an author to comment on their own story? It's 2011. Writers are encouraged by their publications to do this, to be interactive. It's perfectly ethical.

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elgy Feb. 25, 2011 @ 6:35 a.m.

possibly because i'm a reader, and as such, i'm interested in what OTHER readers have to say as opposed to the author, whose opinion i've already read. and in this case, once was enough. and why, refried, of all the things i've opined thus far, is that the only thing you take issue with?

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VigilantinCV Feb. 25, 2011 @ 10:39 a.m.

elgy, you say you are a reader but you are surely missing the point. I will be waiting for your comparable article on the virtues of "the women at SBCS."

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annon Feb. 25, 2011 @ 11:54 a.m.

I dont know about the people involved in the article, but when dealing with the South Bay Community Services IT people, I found them to be of the top echelon in their field.

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joepublic Feb. 25, 2011 @ 7:29 p.m.

This article seems to have struck a sensitive nerve with “elgy”. For me, hearing another side of SBCS’s story is necessary and appreciated. All we've ever heard about this privatized PUBLICLY FUNDED agency are glorified reports. I guess with their well placed, well connected administrators and political hacks on their governing board, we shouldn’t expect to be seeing their dirty laundry hung out in public. Elgy, most public agencies do good work, but that doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t know ALL that is going on. You have insulted readers by insinuating that we are easily swayed by the stroke of a pen. When I read an article I look at the facts, and this article was very well documented and informative. I would like the READER to go one step further and publish the salaries of SBCS's management/administration like the press has done with other publicly funded agencies. What are we spending on these people? I've heard of other stories about SBCS similar to this, and hopefully all will be told eventually. Finally, those mentioned in this aricle must be very upset with "elgy" accusing them of perjury, (of course that's just elgy's opinion!!)

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David Dodd Feb. 25, 2011 @ 11:27 p.m.

elgy, politics in the U.S. isn't my thing; I don't live there and although I might comment on U.S. politics here on the rare occasion, I tend to read and take mental notes. Everyone has the right and the privilege to an opinion on such topics. I simply felt the need to correct your statement about an author commenting on their own story as being unethical. Perhaps twenty years ago that could be the case, but currently, newspapers and magazines that are online encourage (and in some cases require) that the author is interactive in the website and that they also maintain a separate and accessible Facebook or Twitter account. Times have changed, my friend.

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VigilantinCV Feb. 25, 2011 @ 11:37 p.m.

ME TOO!! I want to know how much money of the public money is being paid for salaries. I also want to know how much real estate they have title to. But most of all I want to know about their fancy fun bashes they call fundraisers. How much is spent on all that FUN and how much goes to the victims they "serve"?

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learnb4ugive Feb. 27, 2011 @ 8:39 a.m.

You can research any nonprofit by going to guidestar.org and reading their info and tax filings which list salaries and assets owned by them. It will also list revenue and what it is spent on. Obviously these allegations are serious and if true there is no excuse. But in general most orgs are trying to maintain their programs with less money because of a decrease in funding due to the economic downturn. This may lead to this kind of behavior not because of personal gain but because of a desire to serve the community. Once again no excuse but look at their track record to see what good things they may have accomplished also before possibly getting off track. I have no personal knowledge of them but do of many others and wanted to offer this personal observation.

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barryjohnjohnson Feb. 27, 2011 @ 12:04 p.m.

I am the Barry John Johnson mentioned in the story. If anyone needs to confirm this or discuss any of my statements or any of the issues mentioned, they can call me at 858 353 1332. Because of this agency, there are definitely people doing good work in the South Bay, and the area would be worse off with out it. However, an agency can do good work and also engage in inappropriate activities. These are not mutually exclusive items.

In terms of what to believe or not, please keep in mind the following: I was not awarded $80K for nothing. I feel there is substantial proof and corroboration to support my claims. The corroboration includes people who still work there. I believe that SBCS's own internal documents support my claims as well. If my allegations were false they certainly should not have settled the matter with me within a very short time frame without even a single deposition being taken. It is also certainly not a light matter to take up an employment lawsuit in the first place, and I think the theory is very unlikely that so many people would perjure themselves under threat of the law.

Please note, as the article refers to, that with the Guido case, the publicly available court records show that during the litigation, the agency attempted to throw out her case via a motion for summary judgment. The judge considered all the evidence and arguments, and concluded that her case had sufficient factual and legal merit to continue, including on grounds of discrimination, certainly a disturbing cause of action against the agency.

That was an objective evaluation for that case. With the other lawsuit, involving refusal to falsify and retaliation, I never met the woman involved. I do tend to believe her story, based upon what I experienced and I find it interesting that her case brought up similar issues. Finally, I do wish the agency well and hope that it continues to serve, with appropriate reforms. I am very interested in seeing reforms occur at this agency.

(ditto on Guidestar.org, a great resource, look at the IRS 990 forms for lots of financial info i.e. salaries, contracts, even the cost of their big special event)

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learnb4ugive Feb. 27, 2011 @ 1:11 p.m.

Just curious what kind of work are you doing now?

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barryjohnjohnson Feb. 27, 2011 @ 1:46 p.m.

I am a counselor working with foster teens. I love it. Soon to get my MFT license I hope. I also have friends edging to some management consulting. take care.

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