Director Rebecca Eisenberg speaking at her dias
Valley Water Director Rebecca Eisenberg was censured and stripped of some responsibilities by the board on March 14, 2023. File photo.

The region’s largest taxpayer-funded water supplier is suing one of its own board directors weeks after they censured her.

Santa Clara Valley Water District officials said they plan to file a lawsuit against Director Rebecca Eisenberg at the March 26 board meeting, but did not provide further details. Eisenberg’s colleagues censured her last month for unauthorized removal of documents relating to an investigation into her behavior. The agency was looking into claims that Eisenberg fostered a hostile work environment and made sexist remarks. Eisenberg made the same accusations against district officials.

Eisenberg said she notified employees of her intent to take the documents and that other directors, as well as Valley Water CEO Rick Callender and district counsel Carlos Orellana, had their own copies.

“Suing me for documents they already have in their possession is a recipe for failure by an agency who has zero concern for public interest,” Eisenberg told San José Spotlight. “Once again Valley Water is using ratepayer funds as if it is their personal piggybank — the exact behavior that has earned Valley Water its reputation as the ‘golden spigot’ for decades.”

Callender declined to comment. A Valley Water spokesperson could not say on Wednesday whether the lawsuit had been filed. On March 26, Eisenberg tweeted that the lawsuit seeks to claw back the records she took.

The ongoing controversy comes two months after San José Spotlight first reported that Eisenberg took the documents from Valley Water’s San Jose office as part of the agency’s $587,497 probe against her. Investigators substantiated nine out of 25 total complaints accusing Eisenberg of harassing or offensive conduct from Callender, 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 is just 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.

“I never denied taking home this print-out because the CEO has his own copy and even has a digital copy. So does the chair. So does the district counsel. They all have both digital and printed versions. I only have a print-out,” Eisenberg said. “So why exactly am I not entitled to have the exact thing that they have in their possession?”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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