In exchange for resignation, county Human Resources director accepted $51K in separation pay

Settlement shields county from wrongful termination lawsuit

In exchange for resignation, Human Resources director Lisa DeMatteo accepted $51K in separation pay. (Times-Standard file)

As Lisa DeMatteo left her position as Humboldt County’s Human Resources director last month, she took with her four months of base salary — more than $51,000 — in a separation agreement that protects from a wrongful termination lawsuit, according to public documents.

DeMatteo had been at the position for just under two years, but resigned in July shortly after the county Board of Supervisors evaluated her performance in a closed session meeting. The county has not officially provided a reason for her departure.

In exchange for over $51,000 in separation compensation, DeMatteo agrees to “voluntarily and irrevocably” resign. By signing the agreement, she also waives a host of possible future legal claims and wage disputes.

“DeMatteo has been instrumental in modernizing county recruitment and shortening recruitment methods … however due to differing management styles DeMatteo and (the county) now wish to amicably end the employment relationship,” the agreement states.

She and the county officially entered into the agreement July 21, less than a month after she informed the county she wouldn’t return to her position.

The agreement also describes the two parties’ desire to “fully and finally” settle any potential “differences, claims and disputes” between them.

A county spokesperson was not able to provide comment by the publishing deadline. DeMatteo herself did not return a request for comment.

DeMatteo’s run as Human Resources director was clouded in controversy during her final months at the position. The county’s chief auditor publicly attacked her earlier this year, saying DeMatteo had walled off access to the county’s payroll documents.

Meanwhile, DeMatteo’s use of an outside legal firm to handle Human Resources matters drew pushback from the county counsel for its costliness.

The county counsel, Jeff Blanck, later sued DeMatteo and others for whistleblower retaliation after he was placed on paid administrative leave for unclear reasons. Last month, a judge knocked down Blanck’s individual case against DeMatteo on the basis that she had acted under the scope of her employment with the county.

Blanck can file suit again, but this time against the county at large. He has separately filed claims against the county for allegedly violating public meeting laws and discriminating against his Jewish heritage.

In May, the Board of Supervisors adjusted its billing structure with outside legal counsel Liebert, Cassidy and Whitmore, retroactively approving an unknown number of past payments to the firm. The firm previously sent its billing to Human Resources, but now its bills must be approved by the county counsel.

Language in DeMatteo’s separation agreement echoes the judge’s recent decision in Blanck’s case: “(The county) has determined that DeMatteo was acting within the scope of employment related to litigation … and nothing within this agreement effects that determination.”

The Board of Supervisors approved the settlement at its July 23 meeting.

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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