Four Santa Clara Valley Water District Directors arguing during a meeting, one standing
Valley Water has filed a lawsuit against Director Rebecca Eisenberg (standing) for taking documents pertaining to a confidential investigation into her conduct. File photo.

Valley Water is suing one of its directors for removing confidential documents from its district offices.

The water district sued Director Rebecca Eisenberg on April 22 for removing a confidential report out of offices, which also got her censured by her colleagues on the board of directors in March. Eisenberg has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.

The district had been investigating allegations that Eisenberg fostered a hostile work environment and made sexist remarks. Eisenberg also accused high ranking district officials of gender discrimination, harassment and abusive conduct.

Valley Water spokesperson Matt Keller said the board has asked multiple times for Eisenberg to return the documents, including Board Chair Nai Hsueh asking her to do so during the censure hearing.

“Valley Water’s board of directors has been consistent about their request for the confidential report to be returned to Valley Water,” Keller told San José Spotlight.

Eisenberg denied any wrongdoing and repeated that she notified district employees of her intent to take the documents. The lawsuit also suggests she shared the report with other people, but she said she signed a declaration under oath that she has not shared it with anyone, including with her lawyer.

“It is specious, comprised of intentionally and willfully false statements made with malicious intent, and seeks documents that are already in their possession, all funded with ratepayer money during a time when the district is having a hiring freeze,” Eisenberg told San José Spotlight.

San José Spotlight first reported that Eisenberg took more than 2,000 pages of documents pertaining to the district’s $587,497 investigation against her. Investigators substantiated nine out of 25 total complaints accusing Eisenberg of harassing or offensive conduct from CEO Rick Callender, district counsel Carlos Orellana and other employees.

Eisenberg ruffled feathers on the water board almost immediately after unseating her predecessor Gary Kremen in November 2022, who faced allegations of his own that included workplace bullying. Eisenberg blasted Valley Water for failing to hold Kremen accountable and make changes after an investigation found Kremen violated district policies when he bullied, verbally assaulted and threatened district workers.

In early 2023, Valley Water officials said they received numerous workplace complaints accusing Eisenberg of gender discrimination and making inappropriate comments. Documents obtained by San José Spotlight alleged Eisenberg blamed the region’s infrastructure issues — such as flooding — on men who “love to build things” using concrete.

The agency’s expensive investigation was made public in February. It also details an incident in June last year, where Eisenberg told Board Chair Nai Hsueh that “English isn’t your first language so I want to make sure you understand.” The comment came after Hsueh told Eisenberg she didn’t know what the Latin term ad hominem meant, which “shocked” Eisenberg.

Eisenberg told investigators she was not demeaning Hsueh on the basis of race or national origin, but instead was “accommodating (Hsueh’s) language barrier,” the report said.

Eisenberg also leveled eight accusations of discrimination, harassment, abusive conduct or retaliation against Callender, Orellana and the district, though the agency’s hired investigators determined there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support her claims.

Eisenberg said the investigation was retaliation by Callender and Orellana in response to concerns she raised about sexism at the agency.

The board of directors, including Eisenberg, was allowed to view 2,000 confidential pages related to the investigation — including supporting documents and interviews with employees — in a secure room near the Valley Water clerk’s office. Members could not take photos or copies of the sensitive materials, and were told the documents couldn’t leave the room.

Eisenberg pointed out that she has never denied taking the documents, but said that she believes the public deserves to read the full report. Eisenberg said she suggested publishing a redacted version of the report, but that the water district disagreed.

“I am glad that the public is starting to see how the CEO, the district counsel and the majority of the Valley Water board behave — how little they care about their statutory and moral responsibility to spend public money responsibly,” Eisenberg told San José Spotlight. “Their job is to provide clean water affordably? How exactly does this lawsuit do anything other than drive up water rates?”

Valley Water v. Eisenberg lawsuit

Contact B. Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] or @SakuCannestra on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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