Three former Hanna Boys Center employees file lawsuits for wrongful termination

Three former Hanna Boys Center employees filed lawsuits last week against the organization claiming wrongful termination and age discrimination among other allegations.

Hanna officials, however, disagree with the former employees’ assertions.

“We executed a reorganization consistent with our new strategic plan to help create a better Hanna Boys Center, and believe our actions were fair and proper to those involved and will defend our position throughout the process,” said Tullus Miller, chair of the board of trustees for Hanna Boys Center. “We are always consistently looking for better ways to improve the Hanna Boys Center and what is best for our young men.”

Brian Farragher, CEO of Hanna, said Hanna’s insurance company’s attorney will follow up and respond accordingly, and that he and Hanna stand by their reorganization plan and decisions.

The longtime employees who filed separate suits are represented by the same attorneys, Lawrence King and Victor Thuesen of Petaluma, who represented whistleblower Tim Norman in a separate case against Hanna two years ago. Norman, the former clinical director, was fired in 2016 after speaking out to board members and Farragher about bullying and drug abuse by residents on the campus. Norman was awarded $1.1 million by a jury in a wrongful termination suit in 2018.

The employees in this latest wrongful termination suit – David Montano, Celeste Cook, and Luis Godoy – allege they, too, were retaliated against after voicing concerns to Farragher and board members; their allegations follow the same narrative as Norman’s suit in 2016.

Each claims they were treated as successful employees before they spoke out. Montano, who was hired in 1990 as a childcare professional, said he received promotions and steady pay increases over the term of his employment. Godoy, hired in 2001 as a childcare professional, also says his tenure had a pattern of promotion and pay raises. Cook, hired in 2004 as the school librarian, cited a list of accomplishments in her lawsuit against the center.

Montano and Godoy testified in Norman’s whistleblower trial, and also attended a March 23, 2019, meeting Cook held at her house where they and other employees discussed their safety concerns with two board members, John Quinn who was there in person and trustee Lisa Mertens, who participated by phone, according to Cook’s complaint. Quinn has since resigned, as have at least two other board members, each citing displeasure with how Hanna is being run.

On April 29, a reorganization was announced that included the firing of all teaching staff who were told they could apply for “new” teaching positions during the implementation of the new strategic plan.

At different periods during the spring and summer, the positions previously held by Godoy, Cook, and Montano were eliminated and the restructured departments and new positions, if offered, paid on average 20 percent less than what they were earning before.

Godoy, Cook, Montano and several other employees, some who are no longer employed at Hanna, cite numerous events at the center where residents have been entangled in violence, bullying or drug abuse. They claim that the level of unsafe conditions increased during Farragher’s leadership, which began in 2014.

Hanna was placed on three-year probation by the California Community Care Licensing Division in 2018 and has been cited for several violations since then for such issues as failing to provide a safe environment and failure to report incidents. The most recent report, dated Oct. 25, 2019, said two residents “had grabbed butter knives from the dining hall and were holding them in a threatening manner.”

Hanna Boys Center is a residential treatment facility for teenage boys who have been affected by trauma or adversity. Some live on campus and attend Archbishop Hanna High School. Embroiled by sexual abuse charges against a former priest and then-director of Hanna, John Crews, the center settled a lawsuit for $6.8 million by two brothers who were abused by Kevin Thorpe, a clinical director. Another claim by a 17-year-old resident against a 22-year-old female counselor was settled out of court.