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A former employee of the North County Transit District has sued the public transportation agency, claiming its executive director, Matthew Tucker, illegally targeted employees — specifically, older female employees — for layoffs, then retaliated when his decisions were questioned.
Virginia Moeller, a former human resources employee, filed the lawsuit last month. She is claiming age and gender discrimination and accusing the transit district, known as NCTD, of failing to protect employees from Tucker’s actions.
Moeller declined to be interviewed, but current and former employees have described, both in public court documents and in interviews with inewsource, Tucker’s hiring and firing practices within the government agency tasked with running the county’s SPRINTER, COASTER, BREEZE and LIFT train and bus services.
In her lawsuit, Moeller said Tucker “chose older employees, and at times, older female employees for layoff” and “made various age and age/gender based remarks indicating a bias against female, and/or older female employees.”
She claims “the bias manifested itself” when Tucker fired her.
The lawsuit contends the actions violate state law.
Moeller’s is the second lawsuit against NCTD alleging discrimination since Tucker’s hire in December 2008. The first was filed by former bus operations manager Kim Stone in April 2012. The district did not respond to a request for a copy of the settlement, but NCTD check records show Stone and her lawyer were paid $42,418 on January 18, 2013.
Stone’s lawyer, Laura Farris, told U-T San Diego at the time, “We believe that Kim’s situation is endemic of what is happening at the transit district.”
Tucker and the North County board chairman declined to comment on either Moeller or Stone’s lawsuits, or any of the allegations former district employees discussed with inewsource.
Heidi Rockey, a former grants specialist who resigned from NCTD in July 2012, told inewsource Tucker made a habit of firing, laying off or demoting women over 40.
“One of my last acts of defiance,” she said, “was to quit coloring my hair.”
Moeller’s lawyer, Bill Woodson, said he is astounded by the brazenness of Tucker’s actions.
“There are just too many people that are saying the same thing, singing the same song…” he said, “and it’s being ignored.”
“Like so many others…”
After his hire in December 2008, Tucker’s biggest hurdle was to streamline NCTD and pull back from what one board member described as a fiscal death spiral — a looming budget deficit and drastic cuts to state transit funding. In response, he engineered an unprecedented agency outsourcing plan, and by mid-2012, more than 80 percent of the district’s staff was let go. Many within the agency’s bus division took new jobs with the outside contractor, First Transit.
The board applauded the move, Tucker received a raise, and his story was highlighted throughout the national transit community and even by the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which honored NCTD with its Golden Watchdog Award for “sound fiscal decision-making.”
Rockey, the district’s former grants specialist who is 54, said after the downsizing, the remaining employees thought the worst was over. But soon after, she said, older women became targets.
“If it had been one person here, one person there.. but it wasn’t” she said.
Current and former employees interviewed by inewsource said the executive director often replaced older, female employees with attractive, younger women.
According to sources who were either the subject of the statements or witnessed the actions firsthand, Tucker frequently referred to older female employees as “grandma”; asked if they had enough energy to do their jobs; suggested they dye their hair to look younger; and repeatedly said younger women were “easier on the eyes” than their predecessors.
Two years ago, Rockey and several of her colleagues dubbed the situation inside the Oceanside headquarters, “Tucker’s War on Women Over 40.”
“It was all these women, all over 40,” Rockey said, “and it became really obvious. It was sort of a gallows humor, people said, ‘lookout, if you’re over 40, you might be next.’”
Rockey said she left the agency after discovering and reporting to her superiors that federal Transit Administration grants to NCTD were being over-encumbered. She said the amounts were small — a few dollars here and there — but it worried her enough to document the overdraws in an agency database, and to inform three employees in her department about the repeated occurrences.
She said she was told it didn’t matter.
“I left because I just couldn’t deal with it anymore,” Rockey said. “I reached my threshold for breach-of-ethics issues.”
In Moeller’s lawsuit against the agency, the former HR manager accused Tucker of preferring certain employees for hire, transfer or promotion based on their age, gender or race with “a distinct disregard” for the law.
Tucker had been hiring and restructuring the organization without board approval since his hire, a violation of the district’s own policy. An NCTD spokesman at the time claimed the violation was “an oversight on the part of the entire NCTD team,” according to the U-T San Diego. Yet a few weeks later, he and the rest of the board handed gave the power to hire, fire, demote, promote, abolish and create employee positions to Tucker as executive director. It’s called Policy 19.
Moeller’s lawsuit takes issue with a separate policy change under Tucker’s leadership. Resolution 78-14, a 33-year-old policy, placed laid-off employees at the top of re-employment lists in order of seniority. The board rescinded the law in mid-2011.
Moeller’s lawyer wrote that Tucker “on at least one occasion, undertook to change a NCTD policy regarding layoffs in order to target older employees” and to make the layoffs appear “lawful, legitimate, and pursuant to NCTD policies.”
Moeller is also claiming “failure to prevent discrimination” and “negligent supervision” in the lawsuit.
“Somebody in a position of authority is backing this guy,” said Woodson, Moeller’s lawyer, “because this has been going on for a very long time and it’s fairly outrageous.”
Allegations from Moeller, Woodson, Rockey, and Stone were echoed by three former NCTD upper-managers, as well as others who know the executive director personally. They told inewsource they’ve seen the alleged behavior firsthand, and said many people inside the agency know of the practice — including NCTD board members.
Angela Miller, the district’s former chief technology officer, told the HR department and NCTD’s board of directors in an email on Sept. 12, 2012 that she felt she was being “harassed and bullied,” and that the behavior “was becoming endemic at the agency.”
“I would have loved the opportunity to continue working with such a strong technology team and to assist with meeting the challenges of continuing to provide service to the residents of North County — if I had felt respected and valued. But, like so many others, I did not.” — Angela Miller, September 2012
The district’s board chairman, Supervisor Bill Horn, declined to comment on any of the subjects in this story, citing the pending litigation. Horn has also declined to comment on all but one of the 24 stories inewsource has published about NCTD since February.
Update: Oct. 24, 2013: We’ve just published a “behind the story” explanation of our methodology and discussions about using the photos in this story. You can find it by clicking here.
Bravo to inewsource to keep up their excellent reporting on continuing issues at NCTD. The problems with Matt Tucker are not unlike the problems with former mayor Bob Filner. Like Filner, Mr. Tucker feels emboldened without impunity to continue his harmful behavior because Bill Horn and others entrusted with oversight of NCTD appear to think board oversight is about managing political risk rather than governance & oversight of a public entity. Unfortunately, Mr. Tucker is train wreck wanting to happen, and it will at some point, much to the harm of many people, just like Filner.
It is unfortunate that you feel this is excellent reporting. I find this to be a one-sided hack piece. Here are some inconvienent facts: More women over 40 have been hired in the past two years than under 40 at NCTD and some of them were to very high positions. The article did not mention that NCTD has hired hispanic, asian, middle eastern and african-american men and women at a higher level as well. It is also not mentioned that Mr. Tucker was not the deciding factor on ANY of these hirings, which was always left to HR and othe Executive Members. It is also not mentioned that all hiring committees had male and female representation and that new hires were determined by agreement of these committees,not by a singular person.
What bothers me more about this article is the “hand-picked” group of women that were chosen to be portrayed as only being young and attractive. It was as if the same person who wrote this article about sterotypes chose to use one as the basis of the article. Does anyone else find this to be hypocritical or even sexist? The women depicted are talented, hard working and knowledgable in their chosen areas. The writer of this article is no better than the accusations he made about Mr. Tucker. The writer owes them an apology, a heartfelt apology.
Reporting is about taking facts to determine a conclusion. This reporter took and conclusion and took random facts to make them fit the story. This is the type of hack journalism we have come to accept in this country. Due Diligence will provide headlines that will have meaningful impact. Just because you got a participation ribbon doesnt make you a reporter, it makes you mediocre.
I reported and wrote this article, and I’m sorry you feel it’s a “one-sided hack piece.” Nearly everything you cite in your comment is opposed to what I have learned through a meticulous reporting process. I do not contend that the younger women “are actually excellent employees serving the public.”
That said, if there are errors in the story, we are happy to correct them. It is our policy to do so. If you can supply some data or other verification of your comments, my number is 619-594-3569 or you can email me at email@example.com
Choosing the photos was not haphazard. We made sure we had a defined universe of women: those in top managerial positions. We took care to establish that both graphics contained photos of women in similar categories or positions. We did the best we felt we could in making parallel comparison, despite the fact that NCTD has not updated its payroll roster on the state controller’s website. That data is supposed to be current to make sure municipal governments are transparent about employee salaries.
We did not intend to offend any of the women in the graphics. Many of them have told us they did not take offense.
That said, NCTD has not granted us interviews, explanations or even responses to our recent public records act requests, and so we have turned to inside and outside highly-credible sources for the information.
But you are probably already well aware of all this. Your IP address traces you to within the North County Transit District headquarters in Oceanside.
Your piece gives me new hope for journalism. Thank you so much for your efforts. What Tucker did was even worse than what Filner did: Women, many of whom probably had dependents, lost their livlihoods for the most corrupt of reasons. Tucker AND THE PEOPLE WHO ENABLED HIM need to be held accountable.
So wonderful that you were able to catch this scoudrel as a NCTD employee! Wonder if it is Tucker himself!
As a former NCTD employee (1 of over 600) who left during Tucker’s near 5-year regime, I am still amazed at what I read in the press about that sad organization. Working for NCTD was once a sense of pride. Now it is an absolute embarassment! Those who stay must only be doing it for their pensions and health benefits, or to build their resumes. I mean, why else can they be staying?! Of the 95 or so remaining (many of which have only been there a few years), the revolving door still sends people out of there at least monthly if not weekly. And, yes, men seem to leave almost as frequently as women, whether by resignation or lay-off. Mr. Racino’s article didn’t reflect that, but I have seen it myself firsthand.
The recurring problem/cause of all this unrest is Matt Tucker. He is a knee-jerk, schizophrenic weirdo who changes his mind about people constantly. One day you’re in the A group; the next day, you’ve been relegated down to the B group. Before you know it, you are being marched out the door on a severance package even though your performance evaluations have been stellar for the past several years. Why is this unbelievable behavior being allowed?! I mean, we are not talking about the 1960’s to 1980’s where such behavior was tolerated. And, yet the Board does nothing about this crazy guy they’ve allowed to run NCTD into the ground year after year. Everyone except the Board members themselves are perplexed about this. Why does the Board remain silent on this? The only thing we can fathom is that Tucker has something on them to keep them from firing him.
I highly commend both Virginia Moeller and Kim Stone for taking a stand against the atrocities experienced at NCTD since Tucker came on board. For those of you who were recently laid off, I sure hope you did NOT sign severance agreements. Instead, please consider filing a discrimination complaint with the Fair Employment Housing Administration (FEHA)in San Diego. Once that is done, you can then file a lawsuit against Tucker and NCTD. I think you have 2 years from your date of separation in which to file a lawsuit, but your complaint with FEHA needs to be made within 1 year.
Since they paid off Kim Stone for at least $42,000+, rest assured, they will pay you off as well if you feel you were wronged. I hope Virginia Moeller holds off for at least $100,000 or more! I also hope that someone will stay the course on their lawsuit until Tucker is deposed. I heard through the grapevine that he decided to settle with Kim Stone right before his deposition was to be taken.
Board members…. wake up and send this guy packing. The worst thing you could do is to renew his contract. PLEASE don’t do that! If you do, I hope all of YOUR depositions will be taken as well as these lawsuits unfold.
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