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Orange County

O.C. Agency Settles Sex Harassment Suit

June 30, 2004|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County Sanitation District has agreed to settle a lawsuit against a longtime board member accused of inappropriately touching an employee, officials said Tuesday.

In a written statement, the agency said both sides "elected to resolve their differences" after mediation and the district offered a $150,000 settlement to Frankie Woodside, a 12-year employee. The settlement also calls for Woodside to pay her own attorney fees and resign from her job.

Woodside filed a complaint in March 2001 against Norman Z. Eckenrode, a board member for 14 years and a Placentia city councilman for 26 years, accusing him of sexual harassment, including inappropriately hugging and kissing her. She also alleged that the agency failed to take action when she complained.

The agency and Eckenrode denied any wrongdoing.

"The District determined that the settlement was the most effective way to resolve the dispute," according to a district statement.

Eckenrode said Tuesday that his actions were misinterpreted.

"It's an unfortunate incident," he said. "My character is that of an outgoing and trusting person. I really like people. I hug them. I kiss them. It's my mode of operation, but I never harassed anyone."

Nancy Carlin, Woodside's attorney, declined to comment, noting that it was a condition of the settlement.

It was not Eckenrode's only legal trouble this year. In April, he apparently broke state law when he accepted a $1,000 donation from an engineering company a week after he voted to approve a $3.2-million Placentia city contract for the Carlsbad firm. The same donation was also inaccurately reported on his campaign disclosure forms.

Eckenrode, who maintained at the time that he was unaware that accepting the donation from Camp, Dresser & McKee violated state conflict-of-interest laws, said he has returned the contribution and amended the disclosure forms.

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