Ex-public safety director sues Kern Community College District over alleged harassment, retaliation

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The former public safety director of Kern Community College District is suing over alleged harassment, discrimination and retaliation he said occurred after employees made false accusations that he engaged in workplace romances.

The lawsuit filed by Christopher Counts also said the district set him up to fail by refusing to fill assistant positions despite them being funded, cut his pay and reprimanded him without cause.

The suit said “a substantial motivating factor for the aforesaid adverse actions were Counts’s sex, gender, and participation in sexual harassment complaints.”

The district on Tuesday declined comment on matters involving ongoing litigation.

Counts is seeking an unspecified amount for physical and emotional distress, past and future loss of earnings, unpaid overtime compensation, punitive damages and more.

A hearing is scheduled Jan. 26.

The allegations

Counts had worked as a KCCD public safety officer for 22 years when he accepted the position of director of public safety in 2012. The job required him to be on call 24/7, even during vacations and when out sick.

When he accepted, he received a pay reduction that was never explained, according to the suit filed Oct. 6. The suit said he was told he could either accept the position or drop down to the rank of senior officer and make even less.

As director, Counts said he was responsible for a staff of about 50 employees on multiple campuses. He requested an assistant director and sergeant to help handle the workload but was repeatedly refused, the suit said.

Despite having no support, Counts received high marks on annual performance reviews, according to the suit.

But trouble started in January 2016.

A rumor began circulating that Counts was involved in a sexual relationship with a secretary, according to the suit. He requested an investigation and the rumor was found to be unsubstantiated.

The employee who started the rumor then complained about Counts and said he had been exposed to a hostile work environment, the suit said. The complaint was investigated and also found to be unsubstantiated.

Although the complaints against Counts were meritless, he began experiencing retaliation from KCCD Management, the suit said, including a refusal to staff “sorely needed” assistant positions.

Counts lodged a complaint of retaliation with the KCCD Vice Chancellor of Human Resources.

In October 2018, another rumor made the rounds. This one said Counts was involved with a public safety officer who received a promotion as a result of their relationship, according to the suit. It said a four-person hiring committee actually approved the promotion.

Counts reported the rumor to his supervisor for investigation and addressed it at a department meeting, but the suit said the gossip continued.

The other officer reported that some of her fellow officers didn’t believe she deserved the promotion and she was concerned they wouldn’t come to her aid in an emergency, according to the suit. Counts said he had similar concerns.

The suit said Counts doesn’t believe an investigation into his and the other officer’s harassment claims took place.

About this time, the office of Sonya Christian, former Bakersfield College president and current KCCD chancellor, received an anonymous call saying Counts was having sex with students and employees in campus buildings while on duty, the suit says.

Counts requested an investigation and told management he was being wrongly accused of sexual misconduct, the suit said.

In early 2019, Counts was told changes would be implemented to the department, including the addition of a position above his, and that he would no longer be supervising officers, according to the suit. He was also told his pay would not increase despite all other directors in district departments raised to a higher pay scale, the suit said.

No Title IX investigation was conducted on claims of gender or sexual harassment despite Counts’ repeated requests, but in January 2020 an outside investigative report addressed other allegations, among them that Counts had been set unrealistic deadlines and a KCCD employee removed his ability to access campus buildings, according to the suit.

Counts spent much of 2019 assigned to the KCCD district office building. After the release of the report, a re-entry plan was provided for him, one the suit said resulted in more duties and responsibilities.

“Throughout 2020, Counts was subjected to ongoing retaliation in the form of unrealistic job duties, unrealistic timelines, and productivity criticism under the guise of ‘non-punitive corrective counseling,” according to the suit.

In March of this year, he received an employee evaluation in which he was recommended for termination, the suit said.

Counts resigned June 30 “as a result of the discrimination, harassment, defamation, and retaliation he was subjected to by KCCD and its managing agents, according to the suit.

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