SACRAMENTO — Gerawan Farming recently asked the Sacramento Superior Court to order the Agricultural Labor Relations Board to release documents relating to “whistleblower” allegations from a former lead prosecutor for the board, according to a news release.
The documents Gerawan wants released pertain to ALRB’s former lead prosecutor, Sylvia Torres-Guillen, whom Gerawan alleged “systematically suppressed dissent and punished career ALRB staff members for protesting the agency’s biased, pro-union prosecution” of Gerawan’s employees, according to a news release by Gerawan.
“I believe that it is a reasonable request,” David Schwarz, Gerawan’s attorney and a partner with Irell and Manella LLP, told the Northern California Record. “The anonymity of the whistleblower employee had been removed by her own actions to file.”
The whistleblower is Pauline Alvarez, a field investigator with the ALRB. Several of her allegations directly concern Gerawan.
Gerawan filed a public-records act request for documents but was denied by the ALRB, citing pending litigation.
Gerawan’s complaint stated, “ALRB staff further retaliated against and continues to retaliate against [Alvarez], at least in part, for protesting ALRB general counsel’s conduct in filing an inaccurate and false declaration in order to obtain a temporary restraining order against Gerawan Farming in a dispute with that grower. [Alvarez] had been part of the investigative team and had been present at the witness’s interview. She thus knew that the declaration prepared by the ALRB staff was inaccurate. She opposed the use of this false declaration both to her direct supervisors at the ALRB and to the office of the chairman of the board in or about May 2015.”
Alvarez, in her whistleblower lawsuit with the ALRB, claimed the investigation into a Gerawan employee’s firing was tainted.
“That to me was the single most-shocking bit of news,” Schwarz said. “I couldn’t understand how diametrically inconsistent the board’s statement was to what Alvarez said.”
In the news release, Schwarz said, "The question now before the Superior Court is why the board concealed Ms. Alvarez's lawsuit and claimed that her identity was a secret long after Ms. Alvarez sued the ALRB for suppressing insider complaints alleging prosecutorial abuse by this agency?"
When Gerawan asked the ALRB to produce documents withheld on the basis of a non-existent whistleblower privilege, the board refused. Instead, according to the complaint, the ALRB attempted to shift the blame by stating that Gerawan never properly requested the records.
When Alvarez alleged the firing of the Gerawan employee did not happen the way the ALRB said it did, “The court, itself, raised concerns of the integrity of the evidence,” Schwarz said.
Gerawan’s complaint contends that “[t]he concealment which tainted these proceedings was done in order to hide information from the public. … The evidence of a deliberate attempt to mislead the court is, on its face, clear and convincing.”
The ALRB declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Gerawan Farming Inc. is a family-owned corporation that grows fruit such as peaches, plums and nectarines in the San Joaquin Valley.