MADERA COUNTY - The existence of an investigation regarding harassment in the Madera County administration office has come to light but will not be discussed by the Madera County Board of Supervisors until after the June 3rd elections.
The county-commissioned report published by the Bickmore Risk Services of Sacramento was investigated by attorney Melissa McDonald. The Bickmore firm operates one of the nation’s largest independent risk management, pool management and actuarial consulting firms with a focus on public entities, such as municipalities, counties, and special districts.
Separate allegations like those investigated in this new report were revealed in the 2012-2013 Madera County Grand Jury Final Report. In that report the Grand Jury found that the county's CAO, Eric Fleming has at times used intimidation and threats to obtain compliance with his directions and has negatively affected the morale of some of the employees whom he deals with.
Fleming told Big Valley News in March of this year, "We both know the Grand Jury report was trumped up and bogus upon inception. I'll have legal redemption when the Grand Jury subcommittee, the judge over the grand jury at the time and the three other instigators go before a jury on libel charges. They are walking right into it as we speak."
When we asked Fleming about an employee who claims she experienced an unsolicited physical contact between herself and the county CAO in the woman's restroom at Casey's Iron Horse Salon he stated, "Absolutely untrue. There was a large group of people that were there and they will all verify that I was never alone with her at any time. By the way, we were all off work. The truth will come out. Again, be careful with your sources because they are using you."
The woman, who's name we will not release, complained to one of her superiors, Darren McCandless about the incident but failed to file a complaint with the county's human resources. McCandless told BVN, "I am aware of the conversation but I do not think I should discuss it because of the on-going investigation."
According to the woman, after receiving no help from her superiors in the county's administrative offices she became distraught and went into a depression that resulted in a suicide attempt. She filed a workers compensation claim against the county and received a payment of $10,000. However she was also told that if she took the payment she could not return to her job.
In March of this year, another woman filed a complaint with the California Fair Labor and Housing offices in Fresno regarding a separate hostile work environment claim against the office of the Madera County CAO. It was at this point that the Madera County Counsel's office decided to request the outside investigation by the Bickman Risk Services firm.
Last October an item was on the Madera County Board of Supervisors agenda that would extend the contract for CAO Fleming's services with the county. The contract had very few 'outs' for the county without having to pay Fleming an exorbitant amount of money. The contract was also rock solid in favor of Fleming concerning the level of wrong-doing which would be tolerated. In short, he would have to commit a felony in order to be removed from office without the county having to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in severance.
Interestingly there was also a change to the indemnity clause of the contract that went back retroactively over three years to the day Fleming was hired in 2010. The result being that Fleming would not be held financially responsible for any lawsuits resulting from any act occurring during the course of his duties with the county, including workplace harassment or retaliation. The county would also be responsible to provide a private attorney for the CAO and would have to pay Fleming a consulting fee if he were called to be a witness in any legal action during his time in the County's employ.
This contract extension was removed from the agenda when Madera County Supervisors were questioned about it by Big Valley News. It has not reappeared.
These are not the only claims of a hostile work environment created by the county. As reported on BVN last month, Madera County Deputy Sheriff Ian Roth has filed a lawsuit against the Madera County Sheriff's Department alleging retaliation and religious discrimination at the hands of his direct supervisor and that his complaints to the county were ignored or at a minimum mishandled by the sheriff's administration.
The attorneys handling Deputy Roth's lawsuit have reportedly been in contact with the two women mentioned above in relation to their experiences working with Mr. Fleming and the county's administrative offices.