PETALUMA – A California appeals court ruled in June that the city of Petaluma is not required to share a report related to the investigation
of a 2014 sexual harassment claim filed against the city by former Petaluma
firefighter and paramedic Andrea Waters.
Waters’ attorneys requested access to the city’s report as
part of their information-gathering process. Last year, a Sonoma County court
granted Waters’ attorneys’ request to review the report. The city argued that
it should not have to share the findings based on attorney-client privilege.
The California 1st District Court of Appeals reversed the
lower court ruling on June 8. The appeals court originally elected not to
review the case when the city appealed the Sonoma court’s order, but the
California Supreme Court ultimately agreed to consider the case and remanded it
back to the court of appeals.
Petaluma City Attorney Eric W. Danly said the city is
pleased with the appeals court’s ruling. He said he is not aware of any request
for review of the ruling by the California Supreme Court.
“I believe that the court of appeal’s ruling is consistent
with existing case law governing attorney-client communications,” Danly told
the Northern California Record.
In particular, Danly cited a 2009 case, Costco Wholesale Corp. v. Superior Court. He said the court
in that case ruled that confidential communications between attorneys and
clients, where the attorney was retained to provide legal services, are subject
to the attorney-client privilege, and not subject to disclosure absent consent
of the client holding the privilege.
“We believe the superior court ruling misapplied the law in
determining that the investigation report regarding the Waters allegations, and
related records and information prepared by the attorney retained to produce
the report, are subject to disclosure,” Danly said.
Danly said amicus briefs were filed in support of Petaluma’s
appeal by the League of California Cities, the California State Association of
Counties, the California Association of Joint Powers Authorities, the
California Special Districts Association and the Association of Workplace
“We think the amici did a great job underscoring for the
court the important public policies supporting employers, including public
agency employers, conducting thorough workplace investigations in response to
workplace complaints, and being able to protect such investigations via the
attorney-client and work-product privileges when they are performed by attorneys
retained for that purpose,” Danly said.
Danly said public agencies and other employers need to have
a chance to perform a thorough investigation into workplace allegations and be
protected by the attorney-client privilege when possible. He said such
investigations allow employers to assess the merits of workplace complaints in
an effort to keep workplaces safe and free from discrimination.
Waters’ attorney, Deborah Kochan, did not respond to
repeated requests for comment.
In her lawsuit, Waters alleges that she was harassed and was
the subject of workplace discrimination for nearly her entire tenure as a
Petaluma firefighter and paramedic, which began in 2008. In addition to being
allegedly denied access to the training required for promotions, Waters’
lawsuit claimed that she did not have private quarters or shower facilities at
Waters said the alleged harassment caused her extreme
stress. As a result, she took a leave of absence in February 2014 and left the
department in May of the same year.
The city said its records do not show that any formal
complaint was ever filed by Waters while she worked for the fire department.
Petaluma claims it received notice just before Waters resigned that she had
filed a sexual harassment and retaliation complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment