Silicon Valley director faces gender discrimination complaints
Valley Water board Director Rebecca Eisenberg is pictured in this file photo.

    Newly-elected Valley Water board Director Rebecca Eisenberg is facing a slew of workplace complaints alleging she made discriminatory remarks after she accused the agency of sexism.

    It’s a dysfunctional situation for the 7-member board that oversees the region’s largest water supplier—a body that’s long been plagued by deep political rifts, animosity and division.

    In November, Eisenberg unseated embattled predecessor Gary Kremen, who faced allegations of his own that included workplace bullying. Eisenberg blasted Valley Water for failing to hold Kremen accountable and making changes after an independent investigation found Kremen violated district policies when he bullied, verbally assaulted and threatened female district workers. The complaints came after San José Spotlight revealed Kremen shared partially nude photos with a staffer on his county assessor campaign.

    “I made it extremely clear that the findings in the Kremen report were unacceptable and indicative of a hostile workplace for women,” Eisenberg told San José Spotlight. “I complained to the district counsel on several occasions that we were violating our legal obligations by failing to take remedial measures to avoid future harassment. He’s supposed to be our moral center.”

    But documents obtained by San José Spotlight accuse Eisenberg of gender discrimination and making inappropriate comments to workers. Eisenberg is being accused of discriminating against men and belittling Valley Water officials, according to a Jan. 23 letter from Valley Water CEO Rick Callender to board chair John Varela and Carlos Orellana, the district counsel.

    The letter claims Eisenberg said Valley Water should be led by a woman of color and hire women-led contractors. It also alleged Eisenberg said the infrastructure issues facing the region today—such as flooding—happened because men “love to build things” using concrete. She reportedly told Valley Water officials they are untrustworthy and incompetent, bullied them by saying they lacked common sense and used abusive language such as “douchebag” and “ass” in her emails, according to the letter obtained by San José Spotlight.

    It’s unclear how many complaints have been lodged against Eisenberg, but the letter indicates Callender received grievances from multiple people.

    “These behaviors have had a direct chilling effect on both male and female members of staff who have directly expressed to me fear, concern and trepidation about past and potential future interactions with Director Eisenberg,” Callender wrote in the letter. “This fear has created an environment where staff can not perform at their best.”

    Callender confirmed the authenticity of letter, but declined comment.

    “I can not further comment on this issue as it is with the board to determine how to handle, and I don’t want any comment that I provide to influence any decisions on this matter,” he told San José Spotlight.

    Eisenberg said the letter is retaliation after she raised concerns about how women are treated at the water agency. She denied most of the letter’s claims, but admitted to questioning Orellana’s qualifications because of how he handled the Kremen probe and his support for Measure A. The measure, which voters approved in June, extended director term limits and was criticized for its misleading wording.

    “If there is a textbook case of retaliation, this would be it,” Eisenberg said. “They’re attempting to harass me and retaliate against me for exercising of my rights and for my calling attention of the flagrant sexism that has infected this agency for a long time.”

    Varela and Orellana didn’t respond to requests for comment.

    The political rift on the Valley Water Board of Directors isn’t new, but Eisenberg’s election appears to have fanned the flames. One of the most divisive decisions was to appoint Callender as CEO in 2020. The male board members—including Kremen—banded together and voted 4-3 in favor of Callender. The female board members voted no. In 2008, Callender faced sexual harassment claims from a colleague, who sued him and Valley Water in 2009. The lawsuit was eventually dropped.

    Eisenberg claims Varela demonstrated gender bias when appointing directors to committees and dismissed her qualifications by excluding her from a capital improvement committee. She said he favors the male board members.

    Board Director Barbara Keegan is siding with Eisenberg and criticized the committee appointment process.

    “We should have tried to accommodate at least every director’s first choice. She has considerable experience in terms of project financing budgets, (but) she did not make it into the (committee),” Keegan told San José Spotlight. “She wants to serve the interests of her constituents and to do what she believes (is) the best interests of the public, and I think she is going to ruffle a few feathers.”

    Director Jim Beall, a former state senator who was elected in November to replace Director Linda LeZotte, sees it differently. He said it’s critical for Eisenberg to begin working cooperatively with her fellow board directors. He suggested the board work with a mediator or go on a retreat.

    “Do you want to spend all your time getting even with people that offended you, or do you want to spend time getting something good done?” Beall told San José Spotlight. “Because you can’t do both.”

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