VALLEJO – Vallejo’s former Housing and Community Development program manager sued the city last week alleging that city officials harassed, discriminated against her, and set her up to take the fall for $4.6 million in budget overruns for the city’s planned homeless navigation center.
In the lawsuit, former Housing and Community Development Manager Judy Shepard-Hall alleged that former City Manager Greg Nyhoff had excluded her from discussions and meetings and prevented her from receiving information about the navigation center project.
According to the lawsuit, Nyhoff asked Shepard-Hall to present slides on the costs of the Navigation Center at a City Council meeting on May 25, 2021. The lawsuit claims that Shepard-Hall first learned that the navigation center budget had ballooned from $4.1 million to $8.7 million and that the project would be delayed through another winter during that presentation. The project remains in limbo but the city anticipates starting construction this year.
Councilmembers expressed frustration at the meeting with the extent of the unanticipated costs and asked Shepard-Hall to prepare a report in the coming month detailing the overruns.
“There is just too much here, as far as money… as far as delays… I just feel that the ball has been dropped somewhere along the line,” Councilmember Mina Loera-Diaz said at the meeting. “I know you can do this Judy, and I believe in it, I just want to see that report.”
Three days later, Shepard-Hall was placed on administrative leave while the city conducted an investigation to determine if she had mismanaged her projects, according to the lawsuit.
In December, the city fired Shepard-Hall, which according to the lawsuit was for management failures, missing deadlines for grant reports and inaccurate information that led to major delays of housing projects.
But the lawsuit alleges that Shepard-Hall struggled with harassment, racism and the political volatility of city officials from the beginning of her employment with the city.
According to the lawsuit, Shepard-Hall was considered “senior leadership” when it was convenient for city officials but she was excluded from senior-level meetings, her authority was repeatedly undermined and her compensation was not on par with other senior level positions.
Shepard-Hall made complaints about other employees making decisions in the department she managed without her consent but it was not until she made the complaints about senior management that she experienced retaliatory actions, according to the lawsuit.
Shepard-Hall’s lawsuit alleges that Nyhoff regularly made racist statements, such as saying he wasn’t around Black people for 30 years and telling her to remove her Zoom background that commemorated Negro league baseball because he didn’t like it.
The lawsuit states that Shepard-Hall complained to Nyhoff that then-Planning and Development Services Director Gillian Hayes had repeatedly yelled at her in front of a colleague. Nyhoff dismissed the complaint, and Hayes’s poor treatment of Shepard-Hall continued, according to the suit.
With no support from Nyhoff to address the alleged abuse from Hayes, Shepard-Hall went to the city’s HR department and complained that both Hayes and Nyhoff had harassed and discriminated against her.
According to the lawsuit, Nyhoff responded with a campaign of retaliation against Shepard-Hall. He promoted Shepard-Hall’s colleagues and increased their pay but denied her request to update her housing and community development manager title to a director level title denoting a senior position. Recently the City Council did update the Housing and Community Development Manager position to a director level position. City staff said it better reflects the responsibilities of the position.
Shepard-Hall’s tenure as housing manager was filled with turmoil. In addition to the delayed navigation center project, Shepard-Hall managed the city’s Project RoomKey program to protect vulnerable homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic, and six people died, three of whom weren’t found for days.
Shepard-Hall was notified about a severe mold infestation at a Project RoomKey motel but she ignored or failed to address it for six months, according to emails released in a public records request by the Vallejo Sun.
After the Project RoomKey participants were moved to another hotel, trash, needles and other serious health hazards were allowed to accumulate. The emails show that Unity Care, a partner organization on the project, repeatedly asked for more janitorial services at the new location and threatened to pull their workers out of the hotel.
On May 20, 2021 city officials removed Shepard-Hall as manager of Project RoomKey and replaced her with the city’s risk manager. On that same day, 38-year-old Margaret Morgan was found dead in her room, where her body had been decomposing for days.
A week and a half later, Cherie Nicoletta’s body was discovered days after her death. A total of six people died while enrolled in the program.
Nyhoff left his position not long after Shepard-Hall was placed on leave. Nyhoff departed in the wake of a wrongful termination lawsuit in which three of Nyhoff’s senior advisors claimed that they had been fired after raising concerns about Nyhoff crafting a sweetheart deal to sell public land on Mare Island to developers.
Shepard-Hall is seeking damages related to lost wages and emotional distress as well as monetary damages to deter future behavior.
Shepard-Hall also seeks a court order to compel the City of Vallejo to change its policies and end practices of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.
Before you go...
It’s expensive to produce the kind of high-quality journalism we do at the Vallejo Sun. And we rely on reader support so we can keep publishing.
If you enjoy our regular beat reporting, in-depth investigations, and deep-dive podcast episodes, chip in so we can keep doing this work and bringing you the journalism you rely on.
Click here to become a sustaining member of our newsroom.
THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Judy Shepard-Hall
- Greg Nyhoff
- Mina Loera-Diaz
- Gillian Hayes
- navigation center
- Project Roomkey
- Margaret Morgan
- Unity Care
- Cheryl Nicoletta
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Ryan Geller writes about transitions in food, health, housing, environment, and agriculture. He covers City Hall for the Vallejo Sun.
follow me :