Jerry Brown

Lawsuits Point Claims of Favoritism and Poor Management at Civic San Diego

One current employee who filed a lawsuit against the organization said poor management stymied the agency's efforts to spur economic development and neighborhood investment and lead to staff unrest

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated on October 3 to reflect the signing of the whistleblower act by the California Governor.

Civic San Diego, the organization which oversees the money used to build certain projects within the City of San Diego, is at the center of much public scrutiny.

The organization is facing multiple lawsuits from current and former employees. These "self-described" whistleblowers have come forward making claims of favoritism and poor management.

"I am a professional, I shouldn't be directed to do these things on company time, it's mortifying," former Executive Assistant to the Civic San Diego president Cynthia Suero-Gabler said. "I feel like he favored his friends in the community."

She's referring to Civic San Diego's President Reese Jarrett.

Suero-Gabler filed a lawsuit claiming Jarrett awarded contracts to someone he had dated in the past and another individual who worked with his wife, without seeking proposals from other companies. According to her, poor management stymied the agency's efforts to spur economic development and neighborhood investment and lead to staff unrest.

"One of (the) things that bothers me the most is the community suffers," she said. "When they can't get their stuff together, it's really the people in the neediest neighborhoods that suffer the most."

Suero-Gabler also alleges Jarrett treated African American employees poorly, made derogatory comments about gay employees and during work, instructed staff to conduct his personal business.

"The president was having me and another person do personal work for him on company time," Suero-Gabler said.

Including, she said, helping move Jarrett and his family out of an apartment after it was flooded.

"Cleaning out their refrigerator, it was humiliating," Suero-Gabler said.

Jarrett and Civic San Diego declined to comment on the accusations due to the pending lawsuit but have denied the allegations in court documents.

"When he didn't change, I started to realize that I needed to be responsible and speak up," Suero-Gabler said.

NBC 7 Investigates has learned two other whistleblower lawsuits are pending against Civic San Diego. They allege retaliation for speaking out about what they say were bad policies.

Suero-Gabler's lawsuit claims nothing was done after the city hired an investigator to look into her and others allegations. Instead, she said those that "toed the company line were rewarded" and she was marginalized; moved out of her job as an executive assistant.

"For me to speak the truth, to say what's right and to be full of integrity, yet they treat me like I am the enemy, it's wrong," Suero-Gabler said.

Suero-Gabler brought her concerns to San Diego attorney Dan Gilleon, who helped her file her whistleblower lawsuit.

"This sort of retaliation against whistleblowers, you actually see it getting more and more aggressive and egregious as the salaries go up because people don't want to lose those sorts of jobs," Gilleon said.

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed off on legislation to improve protections for whistleblowers. The bill was introduced by Senator Bob Hertzberg and Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher and allows whistleblowers to keep their jobs while retaliation complaints against their employers are being investigated.

"The health and safety of all California workers is at stake when good people stay quiet for fear of retaliation," Hertzberg said.

Retaliation against employees for reporting violations of the law has been against the law for years but, according to Hertzberg, it took on average 400 days to sort out a retaliation case.

Now, the state’s labor commissioner can seek an immediate and temporary injunction when workers face retaliation for reporting workplace violations.

The California State Attorney General has an established Whistleblower Hotline. That number is 1-800-952-5225. The office said it refers calls to the appropriate government authority for review and possible investigation.

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