Former Mission deputy city attorney Esther Peña sued the city last week, alleging city leadership discriminated and retaliated against her leading up to an unlawful termination from the municipality early last year.
Peña, who was a deputy city attorney in Mission for almost a year, is suing for between $200,000 and $750,000.
The suit in particular describes tension between Peña and both City Attorney Victor Flores and City Manager Randy Perez.
“It is saddening and disheartening that my client is at the receiving end of discrimination, retaliation and ultimately wrongful termination,” a statement from Peña’s attorney, Carlos Hernandez, says. “These actions are not only unjust and unethical, they also undermine the principles of fairness, respect and equality that city leaders should uphold. My client and I would like to affirm our commitment to fighting against such behavior. It is critical to shine a light on these issues, to ensure they are properly addressed and to prevent them from happening to other employees in the future.”
According to the suit, Mission hired Peña in March of 2022.
Late that year she applied for the city attorney position after the resignation of Gus Martinez, though that role ultimately went to Flores.
Peña alleges Flores’ attitude toward her was frosty from the beginning, claiming she found herself excluded from lunch and breakfast meetings other staff was invited to attend.
The Monitor ran a story about Peña investigating grievances against then-deputy city manager Aida Lerma in December of 2022.
Peña recommended that Lerma be demoted or dismissed, though Perez only issued her a brief suspension at the time and assigned her a corrective development plan.
The suit alleges media attention about a grievance process preceded Flores and Perez creating a hostile work environment for Peña.
On one occasion, the suit says, Perez yelled at Peña in front of the city’s mayor and council.
It says Flores would ask a paralegal at the city to tell him when Peña arrived at the office, whether anyone visited her and whether she called human resources.
“Mr. Flores informed Plaintiff that she would no longer be participating in Director’s meetings because she was not needed…” the suit says, alleging that other staff continued participating in those meetings and that Flores also intentionally excluded her from a “Council Retreat Workshop.”
Flores also rewrote Peña’s job description shortly after becoming her supervisor, “isolating and restricting her from her previous job duties” the suit alleges.
“Just seven weeks after Victor Flores became Ms. Pena’s supervisor, [Peña] was terminated,” it says.
According to the suit, the city terminated Peña on February 15 of last year, claiming that her work had been unsatisfactory.
The suit disputes that, claiming that Peña was a dedicated employee terminated unlawfully — at least in part — because of her gender.
“Furthermore, the City failed to follow its own policies in connection [with] its own equal employment opportunity policy,” it says. “Additionally, [Peña] was treated in a discriminatory manner as compared to those outside of her protected class of gender.”
Hernandez also represents former Mission Event Center manager Fatima Garcia, who filed an employment suit against the city last month.
Both women allege mistreatment “was part of a pattern and practice” engaged in by the city toward themselves and “others similarly situated.”