Former Idyllwild Water District General Manager Michael Creighton (far left) as the board called the meeting back to open session to terminate Creighton’s employment contract on Sept. 25, 2019. Photo by Melissa Diaz Hernandez

With the recent turnover of Idyllwild Water District (IWD) general managers, it was only a matter of time before a lawsuit was filed with allegations against the district.

Former IWD General Manager Michael Creighton was fired from his role on Sept. 25, 2019. 

Creighton filed (Jan. 31) and served (Feb. 25) a wrongful termination lawsuit against IWD based on alleged violations of the California Government Code’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Labor Code. The complaint sets forth two causes of action, each alleging that the IWD board of directors unlawfully terminated him from his general manager position in retaliation for actions he took in opposition to harassment of female coworkers.

The lawsuit also alleges that some of the district’s board members violated the Brown Act. 

The newspaper reached out on March 6 to Board President Dr. Charles Schelly, Board Member Dave Hunt and CFO Hosny Shouman for comment on the allegation made by Creighton in the lawsuit, but these individuals are not being sued as defendants. Schelly is not mentioned in the lawsuit by name but is mentioned in paragraph 38 of the lawsuit when Creighton alleges “On Sept. 26, 2019 [day after the board fired Creighton], plaintiff was told by the board president that plaintiff should not have given Shouman a written reprimand.” 

Hunt and Shouman are both mentioned by name in the lawsuit. 

As of press time Shouman responded with, “Do not have any idea what this lawsuit is about.” 

Just before the newspaper went to press, Acting General Manager Mitch Freeman responded by email with “We appreciate your inquiry and would like to say more, but since this matter is in litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.” Board Member Peter Szabadi is copied on the email. 

The lawsuit alleges Creighton “was terminated as a result of plaintiff’s opposition to unlawful practices engaged in by Shouman, and the board with regard to perceived violations of the Brown Act.” It also alleges that if it were “not for the unlawful termination, plaintiff would have continued working at least four more years.” 

Darren Milner, who replaced Creighton as general manager but only stayed with the district for a month, cited in his Nov. 17 resignation letter that he was “experiencing an unhealthy culture and difficult work environment at the district due to poor communication.” 

The lawsuit alleges that “Shouman has repeatedly worked to effect termination of employees that Shouman did not like and has caused termination or resignation of the plaintiff’s predecessor, as well as the CEO hired to replace plaintiff [Milner].”

“Plaintiff is also aware that there have been in the past complaints by female employees of Shouman engaging in conduct those employees perceived as harassing and discriminatory,” the lawsuit alleges. In addition, the lawsuit alleges, that both female office employees at the time of Creighton’s tenure not only made verbal complaints against Shouman but “further provided a written complaint about Shouman.” 

With regard to violations of the Brown Act, the lawsuit alleges, “plaintiff had observed an inordinate number of visits by board members meeting separately or consecutively with Shouman. Plaintiff alleges that Shouman inappropriately met with one or more board members to head off the investigation or determination arising from the investigation. For example, plaintiff observed board member Dave Hunt coming to the office multiple times. 

“In June or August of 2019, Dave Hunt had started coming to the office and indicated he would get or should get involved in the matter. There were other times where board members were visiting the office and would become involved in the day to day affairs. Some board members visited Shouman almost daily,” the lawsuit alleges.  

The above-mentioned investigation is in regards to the verbal and written complaints made against Shouman by the two female office employees. 

Creighton, as reported by the Town Crier, worked for IWD in the late 1970s conducting wastewater testing and served on its board from 1983 to 1997.