Former Hanna Boys Center employees claim retaliation, age discrimination in trio of lawsuits
The Hanna Boys Center has been hit with a trio of new lawsuits by former senior employees who claim their questions and complaints about safety and management at the embattled home for troubled youths resulted in retaliation and, ultimately, cost them their jobs during reorganization efforts earlier this year.
The wrongful termination complaints are the latest manifestation of ongoing turmoil at the storied institution, a 74-year-old residential care center and school near Sonoma roiled in recent years by employee misconduct charges and internal strife, in part due to a change in leadership in 2014.
The three plaintiffs, described in their suits as whistleblowers, and many other former employees were part of what longtime regent Richard Caselli described in an email as the victims of “a purge” that took place last spring, when all Hanna staffers were let go and required to reapply for jobs that were sometimes quite different from the ones they had previously held. Casselli himself resigned in the aftermath after 43 years — the third trustee or regent to resign his post in as many months over what they said was growing dissatisfaction with administration of the facility.
But CEO Brian Farragher says a profound cultural shift has driven that change. It involves, he said, adoption of a new treatment framework, as well as staff realignments aimed at shoring up needed educational improvements and streamlining residential supervision. Together, he claims they set the institution on the right path.
Board Chairman Tullus Miller agreed.
“We believe we have treated the former employees fairly, and we are working to streamline HBC to better serve more young men consistent with our strategic plan,” Miller said in an email. “We believe our actions were fair and proper and will defend our position throughout the process ahead.”
The plaintiffs include former recreational specialist David Montano and program coordinator Louis Godoy, who had been outspoken in their concerns about escalating bullying, drug use and violence during recent years, their suits say. Critics say Farragher’s abandonment of Hanna’s longtime system of rewards and punishment means residents, ages 12 to 18, are no longer held accountable for their conduct and thus are free to act out without fear of reprisal, sometimes dangerously.
Both also testified about their observations during the civil trial of former Hanna Clinical Director Tim Norman, who was awarded $1.1 million by a Sonoma County jury in his own wrongful termination case against the center last year.
The third plaintiff is former campus librarian Celeste Cook, a reading and English teacher who twice last spring hosted staff meetings in her home to air misgivings about practices and leadership, and to convey concerns to Miller and other representatives from the board of directors. Cook, after working at Hanna for 15 years, had begun locking her classroom door for fear of disruption and bullying by other students, according to her lawsuit. She also routinely opened the library at lunchtime as safe harbor for frequent victims, hosting on average 20 to 25 boys in need of refuge, the suit states. The facility typically has between 70 and 80 youths enrolled.
Other teachers had warned her she was “putting a target on her back” by offering her home for the staff meetings, but she did so anyway, her lawsuit states.