A woman currently employed by the San Mateo County Transit District has filed two whistleblower complaints against the public agency claiming defamation, race discrimination and workplace harassment by two coworkers after she questioned certain shipping charges and accounting practices, the Daily Journal has learned through documents it requested.
After the claims were made, SamTrans hired an independent outside consultant, Employment Practices Specialists, to investigate the claims and found them to have no merit after interviewing all parties involved including the whistleblower, a woman of Asian descent referred to as “Employee X” in the confidential report.
She claims racial discrimination since the coworkers are both white.
Employee X, a two-year employee with the agency and certified public accountant, first complained directly to a vendor about an excessive shipping charge that the vendor then shared with her superior. The vendor claimed Employee X was rude and the superior then allegedly disparaged the whistleblower in a public setting by stating she had ruined the working relationship with the vendor.
Employee X asked why parts for $2 were shipped for a cost of $65. She felt the charges were extremely high and asked for an explanation.
As it turned out, a bus was down and the part needed to be shipped quickly to get it back on the road.
But the accountant allegedly refused to pay the shipping charge and allegedly held back shipping payments to other vendors as well.
She claimed it was her due diligence to question how taxpayer money was being spent. She did so in a way, however, that created tension and concerns with her abrupt and sometimes abrasive manner among management, her colleagues and certain vendors, according to the confidential report.
She also complained about a $15 shipping charge that riled another vendor.
A superior then sent Employee X a memo requesting that she may benefit from specialized training/coaching regarding her communication style.
The employee was requested to take a one-day seminar called “Developing Your Emotional Intelligence,” and “Emailing for Success,” a three-hour course.
Employee X, however, took the suggestion as a retaliatory response for her questioning the unusually high shipping charges.
In an email exchange to a superior, Employee X writes “I am doing my best to protect taxpayers’ money but apparently my service is not appreciated. I will take these emails as proofs that I did notify all of you for any suspicious activities but you all disagreed with me and failed to take my alerts into consideration. For these reasons, should something happen in the future, please excuse me for any oversight.”
In another series of emails, Employee X disputes claims of a $59 payment and states she did not directly contact a vendor about the charge despite the vendor saying she did.
“I would appreciate you to not wrongly accuse me for something I did not do,” she wrote in an email to a coworker. “As a buyer, I thought you should do your due diligence to negotiate with vendors since you are giving them long-term business but apparently that was not the case since I have seen patterns of high freight charges that could be avoidable, keep showing up on many vendors’ invoices. From now on, I hope you stop attacking me for any claim that has no basis.”
Much of the email correspondence is from November 2012.
The district’s Chief Executive Officer Michael Scanlon told the Daily Journal that when the matter was first brought to management’s attention “we were skeptical.”
The district, however, responded appropriately, he said.
“We engaged through HR and general consul a full-blown investigation and they found no evidence supporting the claim,” Scanlon told the Daily Journal.
Employee X has since been recommended for termination, is on unpaid leave and awaiting a final appeal, Scanlon said.
The Daily Journal received some documents a few months ago from an unnamed source that questioned certain contracts and “cozy” relationships within the district.
Those same documents and more were also sent to other news organizations in the area that have since made inquiries into the claims.
SamTrans officials believe the source of the documents is Employee X and perhaps another former employee, who quit his accounting job with the transit agency a couple years ago over unrelated matters.
The two have allegedly teamed up to call out other accounting practices they deemed inappropriate such as a few $16,000 payments made for coaching and another $5,000 line item. In total, the whistleblower has challenged about $300,000 in line-item expenses. SamTrans did find that some transactions over the past few years were miscoded and paid for out of the wrong account but an outside independent auditor asserts the line items are immaterial and that a restatement of prior year financials was unnecessary.
SamTrans corrected the accounting errors anyway, however.
The district’s total budget is about $500 million considering its oversight of the bus service, Caltrain, paratransit service and transportation project funds.
Although, the independent consultant that investigated the whistleblower’s claims found no evidence of harassment, discrimination or defamation, SamTrans’ officials think Employee X may be trying to bolster her claim that she is a true whistleblower and being retaliated against by reaching out to the local press.
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