Santa Barbara Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Reported by Lompoc Record

Former jail project manager in wrongful termination lawsuit with county – Santa Barbara County is embroiled in civil litigation with the former project manager of the long-anticipated Northern Branch Jail, with both the project and county tax payers caught in the middle.

Wrongful Termination Lawsuit involve use of title, back pay, other allegations

Erin Lennon /

Grady Williams’ nearly six-year tenure as project manager for the jail project ended when he was investigated for professional misconduct beginning last June and fired in July.

Though the county’s Civil Services Commission reinstated him with full pay and benefits in November, saying the county had no grounds to fire him, Williams says the county and the General Services Department, for which he also acted as Capital Projects manager, have not let him get back to work.

“The county had no backup for its claim,” said Williams, who was investigated and subsequently terminated last July for using the designation P.E. in his title, which indicates he’s a professionally licensed engineer, despite the fact he is licensed in Washington state, not California. “They chose to make these decisions anyway, leading to this mess that could have been so easily avoided,” he said.

Williams says the P.E. designation had been used by both his supervisors and himself throughout his 11 years with the county, though he argues he did not start the practice.

“I was basically being told to use P.E. in my title, and even if I hadn’t used it, (the county) was already using it,” said Williams.

When Williams was first hired by the county in 2002, he told the department he was about to take the California professional engineers licensing exam, which he later failed and then never took again. But his assigned duties had not required him to act as a professional engineer, according to the Civil Services Commission. It’s a misdemeanor in California for anyone without a license to use the title professional engineer.

While Williams has not been allowed to continue his work, he says he has been accruing his salary and benefits, which he says add up to about $300,000 a year, since November, but he hasn’t seen any of it.

“The county was ordered to reinstate me in November 2013, but I haven’t actually gotten anything,” said Williams. “Instead of doing that, the county chose to fight it.”

Whether or not the funds are accruing, General Services has been advertising for and hiring interim project managers for the jail project as well as a Capital Projects manager, both of which add to the county’s payroll. Williams alleges that the interim project managers have gotten a salary equal to that which he is accruing.

“So, the county will be paying three salaries where they were originally only paying one,” said Williams, who has also voiced concern over the attorneys’ fees that are adding up as the litigation continues, a subsequent cost to tax payers.

Williams sued the county in March this year to get his position back as well as for back pay, future earnings, compensatory damages and attorney fees. Williams alleges disability discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination lawsuit, among other things. No specific monetary amount has been requested, according to his attorney Matthew Clarke of Kelley Clarke PC in Santa Barbara. That amount will be assigned by a jury.

“I need some resolution, and I want some resolution,” said Williams. “I want a wrong to be right again, and I’d like to get my name and reputation back again.”

His concern also lies with what many are calling the county’s largest capital project to date — the $96.1 million Northern Branch Jail set to break ground near Santa Maria in 2015. He alleges that the project has been without a secure project manager for nearly 10 months. As an expert in the field, he argues that this could harm the planning and development process.

But General Services Director Matt Pontes cites the work of the project’s interim managers.

“There hasn’t been any risk to the project so far,” said Pontes. “We’ve hit our milestones, and we’re on budget.”

Neither Pontes nor County Counsel Mike Ghizzoni could comment further on the ongoing litigation.

The county filed a petition Feb. 14 to overturn the Civil Service Commission’s decision to fully reinstate Williams, along with another application to keep Williams out of his position in the meantime. According to a tentative ruling, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Donna Geck will deny the county’s application Friday, likely sending Williams back to work while the courts consider whether or not to overturn the Civil Service Commission’s November ruling.

Geck’s tentative decision comes down to health care coverage. “…the fact remains that healthcare coverage is obviously very important to Williams, and pending the results of the current petition, he should be reinstated to his former position with full benefits,” she wrote. Williams was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 but kept it under wraps until weeks before he was terminated.

Williams believes his cancer diagnosis may have played a role in his firing.

Santa Barbara County hired Williams as a contractor in 2002, and he became a regular employee in 2006. He was named project manager for the Northern Branch Jail Project after helping the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department win an $80 million state grant in 2008. Williams says he normally worked upwards of 60 hours per week while acting as both the jail project’s manager and General Service’s capital projects manager.

After being fired, Williams created the consulting firm Grady Williams Associates and has been working on jail development projects in California, specifically in Contra Costa and San Mateo counties.


If you have questions or concerns regarding a wrongful termination lawsuit, please contact Kelley Clarke PC.