Lawsuit against CAPSLO reaches a settlement

Dee Torres-Hill
Dee Torres-Hill

A whistleblower lawsuit filed against Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County by its former director of homeless services is coming to an end.

The suit, filed in October 2014 by Dee Torres-Hill, has reached a settlement, and the case will be dismissed Dec. 11, according to a dismissal order signed last week by San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera. It did not reveal details about the settlement, and Torres-Hill and CAPSLO officials declined to comment on specifics.

“It is correct that the Torres-Hill matter has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties,” CAPSLO Chief Operating Officer Jim Famalette wrote in an email.

CAPSLO oversees two local homeless shelters — the Prado Day Center and Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter — and will operate a new Homeless Services Center that is expected to open in 2017 at 40 Prado Road in San Luis Obispo to replace both of those facilities.

Torres-Hill said she was the victim of retaliation after expressing concerns over the safety of her staff and homeless clients. According to the suit, she has worked with the homeless since 1995 and began working with CAPSLO in 1999, eventually becoming director of homeless services.

While she had been commended and rewarded for her good work in the past, Torres-Hill claimed, the good working relationship changed when she began addressing concerns about safety.

The lawsuit stated that workplace problems started after Torres began documenting and reporting safety and security concerns at the two shelters in October 2013, telling her bosses that the safety concerns stemmed from short staffing. In March 2014, she set up a meeting to discuss the issues.

It is correct that the Torres-Hill matter has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.

CAPSLO Chief Operating Officer Jim Famalette

“The meeting became ‘heated’ and plaintiff was reminded by defendants that plaintiff was employed by the agency and that ‘she should remember that and examine her loyalties,’ ” according to the suit.

On March 12, Chief Executive Officer Biz Steinberg allegedly told Torres-Hill that her department would be restructured for economic reasons. Torres-Hill was then offered a demotion from homeless services director to a manager position.

CAPSLO officials told The Tribune they had demoted three employees, prompted by an ongoing deficit at the two shelters. In May 2014, Grace McIntosh, deputy director of CAPSLO, reported to the media that Torres-Hill was on paid administrative leave, according to the lawsuit.

In June 2014, Torres-Hill inquired again about the safety issues, said inadequate training was apparent at several sites within programs CAPSLO provides, and identified issues and policies not being followed that resulted in safety and security risks, according to the lawsuit. The suit does not go into further detail about the safety or security issues.

Torres-Hill is now a volunteer with SLO Housing Connection, a nonprofit founded in 2014 with a focus on finding housing for homeless individuals and families. She said she was involved in developing the initial concept of the organization but became an official volunteer in March 2014.

She said she could not comment on specifics of the settlement but wrote in an email, “I am very happy to have settled my lawsuit. I am now focusing all of my energy on my family and ending homelessness in this county.”

Cynthia Lambert: 805-781-7929, @ClambertSLO