WALNUT CREEK -- Two city employees say they suffered public ridicule and embarrassment after being named in an investigation into whether staffers failed to report suspected child abuse by a Lesher Center employee.

Arts, Recreation and Community Services Director Barry Gordon and Lesher Center Manager Scott Denison both filed claims in the past two months accusing city leaders of myriad transgressions, including violations of their privacy. These two are in addition to the claim former Human Resources Director Sally Rice filed in September.

Denison's wife, Kerri Shawn, and their daughters, Jennifer Perry and Amanda Denison, who are heavily involved in productions and programs at the Lesher, each filed their own claims. Claims are usually the first step in the process to file a lawsuit.

Jason Pedroza
Jason Pedroza (Walnut Creek Police Department)

Particularly angering and egregious to the employees and contractors is an internal confidential police memo leaked to this newspaper that accused them of violating state-mandated reporting laws and of fostering an inappropriate climate at the Lesher.

All claims were seeking damages well over $25,000, but as of late Thursday it appeared the city had settled, or was in the process of settling, the claims. Gordon said Thursday in an email he was pleased the city agreed to settle his claim, though he did not say for how much. He had been asking for more than $50,000.


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This is all fallout from city officials' handling of Lesher Center employee Jason Pedroza, fired a year ago for inappropriate behavior with teenage girls. This eventually led to internal and criminal investigations into fellow employees' possible failure to report child sex abuse. In August, Pedroza pleaded guilty in Contra Costa County Superior Court to child sexual abuse charges.

Denison, Gordon and Rice were all placed on paid leave, along with a fourth city employee, for more than two months while the city conducted the independent investigation. All four were all eventually cleared of wrongdoing and brought back to work.

But the damage done is irreparable, according to the claims.

Because the claims could cost the city more than $50,000, the Employment Risk Management Authority -- basically the city's insurance agency -- is handling the claims, said Mayor Kristina Lawson. She had no comment on settlements.

The leaked police memo is at the center of the claims.

"This abusive and hostile environment was fostered by the city of Walnut Creek's refusal to investigate this blatant violation of public trust and personal betrayal perpetuated by employees and elected officials," according to Gordon's claim, in reference to the leak. "To this very day the city has refused to address and resolve the environment of hostility and distrust that saturates Mr. Gordon's workplace."

Gordon's six-page claim is filled with accusations that police, the city attorney and two council members were part of leaks to the press and actively worked to discredit city staffers. He describes his humiliation and frustration in detail. Although the claim never names the two council members, events it describes clearly point to Lawson and Councilman Justin Wedel.

"To this day it is extremely difficult for Mr. Gordon to be in the company of the police officers and supervisors who conducted the investigation and inappropriately recommended (criminal) charges be filed against him," reads the claim.

Lawson said she disagrees with Gordon's "characterization of events."

Gordon says the ordeal required him to retire earlier than planned. He will leave the city at the end of this month after nine years.

The Denison family's claims are virtually identical. Each states their family has been forced to "endure unwarranted publication of private details." While the investigation centered around Scott Denison, his family is involved because they have worked as city contractors for plays and programs at the Lesher Center. In fact, according to documents obtained by this newspaper covering July 2009 through June 2013, the city paid Shawn more than $55,000 for services such as acting or teaching in the city's young actor classes. For that same time period, Perry was paid $70,000 and Amanda Denison nearly $10,000.

William Gagen, attorney for the Denisons, blames the city.

"It was never our intention to have to file claims because we had expected two or three months ago to be reimbursed for Scott's attorney's fees."

The City Council voted against reimbursing any of the employees for their fees. Gagen said he thinks a lawsuit is unlikely and believes a settlement is imminent.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.