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Former Employee Sues County for Wrongful Termination

In her complaint, Shawn Terris contends she was unfairly retaliated against for her involvement in the Employees Retirement System

A former Santa Barbara County employee held a news conference Tuesday outside the county Administration Building to announce the filing of a civil suit against the county for wrongful termination, among other things.

In her complaint, Shawn Terris alleges she was unfairly fired and retaliated against for her involvement as an elected board trustee of the Santa Barbara County Employees Retirement System and for helping managerial employees pursue the desire to organize.

“I’m stunned, disappointed and hurt,” she said Tuesday.

Her attorney, James Cordes, said Terris is seeking reinstatement into her position as a program/business leader in the County Executive Office and monetary damages for her economic and noneconomic harm.

Terris worked under county Executive Officer Michael Brown, but was assigned to the sheriff’s department. She worked in the same position for 13 years.

According to the 24-page filing, Terris frequently had confrontations with Michael Brown and Sheriff Bill Brown over communicating with her constituents and being involved in organizing employees. She contends the county, Michael Brown and Bill Brown were involved in the allegations.

There has been internal legal action regarding the above issues. In the past three months, Terris has filed two Claims Against Public Entity, a charge of discrimination in employment against the county, and a Retaliation Complaint alleging that her termination violated labor codes.

Before her termination, Terris contends she was pressured to stop her involvement with SBCERS and the State Association of County Retirement Systems, of which she was president for a term.

The complaint also alleges Terris was locked out of her office and denied access to retirement files and e-mail accounts in order to stop communication with her constituents as a trustee.

Terris said Tuesday that the case could have statewide implications and affect retirement board trustees all over. “I’m not here just for me,” she said. “We need to send a message to all governments that it won’t be tolerated.”

Terris was terminated from her position Sept. 6 after appealing the decision internally and being denied. She is unemployed and no longer eligible to hold her position on SBCERS because she is no longer a county employee.

Chief assistant county counsel Stephen Underwood said Tuesday that the county doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

“Anyone can file a lawsuit and make whatever allegations they wish to make,” he wrote in an e-mail to Noozhawk. “They are, however, simply allegations at this stage of the proceeding which must ultimately be proved by facts and evidence.”

The complaint contends violations of the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution; violation of the California Constitution regarding retirement board trustees; violations of three labor codes; employment discrimination based on sexual orientation; breach of contract; breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing; defamation; and verified petition for writ of mandate and declaratory relief.

Case management is scheduled in the courts for early next year.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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