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Orange County

Lawsuit Targets Chief of Office on Aging

Five current or past employees say Pamela Mokler and another supervisor created a hostile environment to force people out.

May 09, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

The chief of Orange County's Office on Aging has been accused of making offensive remarks to her staff and discriminating against them based on race, religion and age.

Five current or former employees alleged in an April 15 lawsuit filed in Superior Court that agency Executive Director Pamela Mokler -- along with Director of Operations Davine Abbott -- created a hostile environment to pressure targeted workers to resign or transfer from the office.

The employees also allege that they were victims of improper retaliation, wrongful termination and infliction of emotional distress.

Other defendants include Mokler's former boss, William Baker, who recently retired as head of the county's Community Services Agency, and 20 other unnamed county workers.

Mokler could not be reached for comment Thursday. The county's risk manager assigned to the case declined to discuss the suit.

Plaintiffs include Janet Lockhart, a former contracts analyst for the agency; Luz Serrano, a former specialist with 21 years' experience working for the county, and Robert Rivers, a former staff analyst.

Plaintiffs Linda Pringle, a contracts analyst and county employee for 26 years, and Cesar Delgado, a senior citizens representative, still work at the agency.

Before Mokler was hired, the agency's top spot had been vacant for 18 months. She quickly gained the respect of county supervisors, who doubled her staff to 26 and increased the agency's budget to $13 million.

She is credited with consolidating information and resources available from the many senior community services and giving seniors access to an interactive Web site and a toll-free telephone number.

The lawsuit alleges that after Mokler was hired, in November 2000, she went on a "systematic program of wrongful and unlawful terminations, retaliation, demotions, harassment" to eliminate staff members so she could hire new workers.

She made repeated threats to the plaintiffs that "all would be gone" within a year, the lawsuit said. She is also accused of verbally harassing them with derogatory comments.

The lawsuit also alleges that Lockhart was wrongly terminated for reporting to superiors that the agency was misusing interest from a trust fund.

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