Golden State Water gets same judge in two trials (note: for Ojai takeover and an employee lawsuit)

Golden State Water Company will have a year before it squares off against a former employee who is accusing the water giant of firing him for complaining about unfair and unsafe business practices.

Simon Hernandez, who worked for GSWC as a water distribution operator II from November 2008 to April 2013, filed a 21-page complaint in the Superior Court of Ventura County June 10. Hernandez's attorney, Kevin Chaffin from the Green Law Group in Simi Valley, said the two sides met in a case management conference with Judge Miles Lang Friday. A trial date of Nov. 9 was set for the case and Judge Kent Kellegrew was assigned the case.

Between now and the trial, both sides will interview witnesses and seek documentation that will support their case. For Hernandez, that means stacking enough evidence to prove his claims that during his years at GSWC he “experienced an ongoing pattern of retaliation, harassment and discrimination which ultimately led to his wrongful termination ...” In the complaint, Hernandez claims that GSWC managers favored one local contractor over others, requiring subordinates to use them even when this resulted in Ojai customers incurring extra charges for leaking water or extended interruptions of service. The end result, according to Hernandez, was the contractor was given preference in exchange for rewards to some GSWC managers that included kickbacks, fishing trips, free meals and other financial benefits. The complaint did not name the managers suspected of receiving the alleged rewards.

As a result of his termination, Hernandez is seeking several concessions. Among them, an order prohibiting GSWC from taking further action against him and either reinstating him or prohibiting the company from making untrue or damaging statements about him to future potential employers. He also seeks an order preventing the water company from retaliating against employees for advising Ojai water customers of their right to reasonable water rights and preventing them from hiding such information from Ojai customers in the future.

Also in the suit is a request for an injunction requiring Golden State to provide notice to its Ojai and Simi Valley customers that they might qualify for downsizing of their meters, under what conditions that could occur and of the water rates charged for each meter size.

In addition he hopes to recover dam- ages for loss of wages and benefits, punitive damages, attorney fees, legal costs and any other relief the court may determine appropriate.

GSWC spokesperson Mitch Zak, with Randall Communications, said the company does not comment on personnel matters.

In March, Kellegrew ruled against GSWC in a separate lawsuit it filed seeking to stop Casitas Municipal Water District’s efforts to form a com- munity facilities district to raise funds to purchase the publicly traded water giant’s Ojai service area and merge it with the municipal water company’s existing operation.

In its appeal brief, GSWC blasted Kellegrew with statements including, “The trial court’s summary shows how far removed its ruling is from the applicable law,” and “Nonetheless, in the space of a scant five page opinion, the trial court managed to mention three times that the electorate had spoken loudly and that outcome ‘must control.’ That philosophy represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept of judicial review.”