Caltrans must pay almost $1.5 million to resolve a five-year-old lawsuit filed by a former state employee who alleged she experienced workplace retaliation after she complained about her colleagues sharing pornography at work.
A San Joaquin County Superior Court judge this week directed Caltrans to pay $850,000 in legal fees and costs to John Shepardson, the attorney who brought the case on behalf of former Caltrans employee Rachel Elizondo.
A jury in November 2017 awarded $605,000 to Elizondo, who in 2009 alerted supervisors that her colleagues in a Stockton office were sharing pornography.
Shepardson was allowed to ask for legal fees from the state because he won the case. He initially requested $4.6 million from the department, claiming that he and Elizondo took significant risk in pursuing a lawsuit against state government. The trial took 30 days.
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Sheparadson also asked the judge to pay his fees at an hourly rate based on Bay Area wages.
Judge Roger Ross rejected Shepardson’s requests for the higher sum, as well as his request to be paid at a Bay Area rate.
The lawsuit was Elizondo’s second against Caltrans. In the first, she reported that she felt ostracized after reporting financial mismanagement. A jury sided with Caltrans in that 2009 case.
That year, a supervisor asked her to check his computer and she discovered a cache of pornography.
Caltrans investigated a complaint she filed after discovering the images and found that more than 20 of her coworkers had shared or received pornography.
Over the next few years, Elizondo claimed that her colleagues isolated and intimidated her. Several of her former coworkers wrote sworn statements indicating that they noticed their peers treating her harshly.
“It was brutal. It was very hard to go to work being in that type of environment,” she told The Sacramento Bee in March.
Elizondo filed the lawsuit in 2013, and has retired from her government job.
Shepardson and Caltrans have not responded to requests for comment. Ross wrote his decision in a tentative ruling he released this week. He was scheduled to hear arguments over the fees on Thursday.