SAN ANTONIO – Attorney Jason J. Jakob now represents three women who have filed a total of four federal employment complaints against Bexar County, all since last fall.
Besides retaining Jakob to represent them, all three share similar paths of being removed from their positions after lodging accusations against supervisors.
“It seems as if right now it’s a witch hunt to find out who are the whistleblowers,” said Jakob.
Alexandria Millan, who last year filed two Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints against the county, was removed from her budget analyst position in late May and reassigned to the county’s purchasing department in another building.
County officials claim Millan was reassigned because she was uniquely qualified to help several county agencies manage COVID-19 related expenditures.
Her attorney said the move was punishment for speaking out against Assistant County Manager Tina Smith-Dean, after Millan accused her of unfair treatment at work and retaliation.
One complaint stated that Smith-Dean required Millan to clock in and out while co-workers in the same department were allowed to arrive at work and leave without having to do so.
Millan then filed the retaliation complaint after she says Smith-Dean and a second supervisor wrote her up shortly after the first complaint was filed.
Millan now worries her position at the purchasing department will eventually be eliminated.
“So far out of all of this, the only people who seem to be punished are the people who are bringing this to the public’s attention,” said Jakob.
“This may be paranoia, but I found a hair on my desk...”
Late last year, a longtime county employee, who asked that we not identify her, accused Smith-Dean of harassment and bullying.
Due to Smith-Dean’s high-ranking position, according to multiple sources, the decision was made to bring in an outside firm, Kelmar Global Investigations, to handle the investigation.
In late February, the same county employee was then placed on investigative administrative leave after a list of co-workers accused her in written statements of taking photos or videos of them, intimidating them at work and disrupting their work environment.
Surveillance video released by the county this week appears to show the employee on Feb. 26 taking photos or recording video as co-workers walk off of an elevator inside the Paul Elizondo Tower.
Multiple co-workers said the actions made them feel upset and uncomfortable, records show.
The employee, however, said she has taken photos of the elevator and reception areas for years as part of her job duties, documenting displays and other items that need to be cleaned or organized.
Several of the co-worker complaints were sent less than an hour apart, according to records provided by the county.
Four of the statements were sent to Smith-Dean before being forwarded on by her, records show.
A county spokeswoman this week told the KSAT 12 Defenders via email that Smith-Dean was not involved in investigating the employee:
“Tina Smith Dean has declined your request for an interview. As I mentioned on Thursday, she did not have any role in the investigation/notice of proposed termination. Her name in the emails you referenced are due solely to staff notifying her and other staff members in their respective chain of command about their experiences. She, in turn, forwarded those email messages to the employee’s immediate supervisor to address.”
County records, however, dispute this account.
A senior budget analyst, while being interviewed via video conference about the elevator incident by human resources in early April, claimed he sent a text message about the encounter to Smith-Dean for her to review.
A second employee, a data compliance analyst, said she sent Smith-Dean an email about the elevator incident and that Smith-Dean then came to her office to discuss it.
“What is the basis for the investigation?” asked Jakob during a recent interview with KSAT, pointing out that even if his client had been recording her co-workers, there is no county policy against doing so.
A third co-worker, a budget manager, documented a long list of accusations against the employee but repeatedly acknowledged she had no proof.
“This may be paranoia, but I found a hair on my desk similar to the color of (redacted) hair. I do not have proof that she was in my office,” wrote the budget manager.
The same co-worker claimed in investigative records that she found a recycling bin in her office out of place and had asked the facilities director if a county parking garage had working cameras in case she was approached, before admitting that no incident like that had occurred.
Jakob described the gathered statements against his client and subsequent transcripts via video conference interviews as “ludicrous.”
County Manager David Smith earlier this year informed Jakob’s client that Kelmar had concluded its report and based on a legal review of it by the district attorney’s office, the allegations against Smith-Dean could not be substantiated.
County officials have refused to release a copy of the report, claiming in late May that some of the information is protected by attorney-client privilege.
Officials have also refused to confirm how much money was paid to Kelmar and its investigators to put the report together.
The employee was given a proposed termination in late April, after the county concluded she made co-workers feel fearful and intimidated.
She retired late last month and is now in the process of attempting to find employment elsewhere.
“I don’t know what department I work for.”
Bexar County employee Nella Johnson was transferred from its Small, Minority, Women, and Veteran Owned Business Enterprise (SMWBE) Program to Environmental Services in December, eight days after she accused a supervisor of putting her hands on her during a work conference.
Johnson, who said she contemplated filing assault charges against the supervisor and that the woman had also criticized her appearance, said the incident took place after the two previously had a dispute over how many black-owned businesses could qualify for county contracts.
Johnson said a study conducted by a local university on behalf of SMWBE produced inaccurate figures on how many of these businesses qualified.
“I came here to do a job. You know, I don’t want to get involved in the politics,” said Johnson, who hired Jakob after being transferred to Environmental Services.
“I don’t know what department I work for,” said Johnson, referring to the shuffling of positions.
She said she was brought into her new role at a lower level and claims officials have approached her several times about taking a pay reduction.
A county spokeswoman this week said she was unable to provide information about Johnson’s work situation.
Johnson’s former supervisor did not respond to a text message seeking comment for this story.
Jakob called the cases proof of a developing pattern within Bexar County.
“And that tends to be termination or hiding them in a different office or moving them from departments,” said Jakob.