Employee says she was traumatized by the event
A civil lawsuit has been filed in the aftermath of a fake robbery last year that left a West Kern Water District employee traumatized.
A suit seeking unspecified damages was filed last Friday in Kern County Superior Court on behalf of clerical assistant Kathy Lee, who, the suit alleges, was left traumatized by a training exercise designed to add a dose of reality.
Named defendants are General Manager Harry O. Starkey, accounting supervisor Ginny Miller, safety manager Sam Traffenstedt, and quality control manager Gary Hamilton.
"My instructions are to make no comment," Starkey said Wednesday morning after the district board of directors discussed the suit in closed session at it regular monthly meeting Tuesday night.
"I wish I could say something, but I've been muzzled by my attorney. I think we'll stand by the statement we had previously released."
That statement was the formal district response announced a day after the July 29, 2011, incident and said:
"Staff had been working for several months to develop training and exercises for the front counter staff that would prepare them for a possible robbery. The plan was to perform a mock robbery with the 'burglar' being an employee that was clearly recognizable by the front counter staff.
"In other words, the exercise would be seen as an act and staff would then have the opportunity to practice the information learned in training. The exercise as performed on (July 29) was redesigned without the consent of management to involve a mask and a reference to a gun. The exercise as conducted was upsetting to those involved. The District is working through the process with the involved employees."
Lee was so distraught she left her job for a time to undergo professional care to deal with the effects caused by the trauma she allegedly suffered. She has since returned to work but still has nightmares, according to her husband, Dan Lee, who is a customer service representative for the district.
Miller, who at the time served as assistant to Director of Finance Sonny Kapoor and was Kathy Lee's supervisor, was demoted following a review of the episode by the district administration and board of directors, but no one was fired.
The idea of staging a mock robbery came out of efforts by management to see how personnel would react in emergencies.
A late change of plans added a ski mask and a message scrawled on a paper bag demanding money and making reference to a gun.
Someone who is not a district employee was initially supposed to play the role of the robber, but backed out at the last minute and Hamilton was substituted, according to employees familiar with the botched plan.
The scene was arranged so only the four female members of the front office staff were at their posts when Hamilton pulled off the charade.
Lee complied, placed cash in the bag and Hamilton walked out.
City police were apprised of the original plan in advance, but were not clued in about the change, and were, several sources said , incensed about the way the scheme was carried out.
Kathy Lee is being represented by Craig Braun of the Bakersfield-based law firm of Dake, Braun and Monji, who did not return a call seeking comment.