Editor’s note: This story contains adult content. It is not recommended for younger readers.
BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
The general manager of a Redwood City-based sewage processing agency was fired and received an $875,000 severance payment after he instructed an employee about how to “get more comfortable with herself sexually,” such as walking around her home naked, newly released documents reveal.
He also tried to set up an occasion for them to masturbate at the same time at their own homes, those documents show.
These allegations and others resulted in the firing of Dan Child, who headed the Silicon Valley Clean Water agency for 15 years until May 22, 2018. He was paid $875,000 to leave the district. Silicon Valley Clean Water, a public agency, handles the sewage from Redwood City, San Carlos, Belmont and the West Bay Sanitary District, which includes Menlo Park and Atherton.
The woman who Child is accused of sexually harassing agreed to resign and drop her claims in exchange for a $1 million payment.
Child and the woman, who the Post will identify as Jane Doe, had sexually explicit conversations and text messages with one another and in the workplace. Child was Jane Doe’s direct boss, and had apparently told the woman that she needed to “put aside the fact” that he was her boss, according to the board’s termination letter to Child.
The board’s termination letter to Child lays out precisely why he was fired. Child told the agency’s investigators that Jane Doe had approached him with questions about “the male sex drive” in 2017.
“I maintain my innocence in reference to the … allegations leveled at me, and believe I am the true victim of the person making the allegations,” Child wrote in his resignation letter to the board.
But according to the board’s termination notice to Child, he admitted to the investigator that he said the following during conversations with Jane Doe in his office. The investigator, Karen Kramer, said Child:
• asked Jane Doe if she had ever had an orgasm;
• told Doe he pleasures himself;
• told Doe to “masturbate more than five times a week,” which both Child and Doe said was Doe’s “assignment”;
• told Doe “to stop using a vibrator during masturbation and that instead she should go ‘slow and easy,’ a phrase that was repeated in your text messages to her”;
• asked Doe if she was engaging in safe sex with her then-boyfriend and gave her condoms;
• encouraged Doe to walk around her home naked to be more comfortable with herself;
• verbally agreed with Doe to pleasure themselves at their homes at the same time, and then sent Doe several texts saying he was available to do so.
Messages he sent
The notice also lists nine text messages Child sent to the woman, including:
• “… by the way, assignment lady, tell me day and time we can do assignments. Might help slow-and-easy having our minds thinking of the same things at the same time.”
• “Not disappointed, but I am looking forward to it. I have the opportunity and I’m doing my ‘house’ assignment now! Let me know and I’ll do my best to make a later time or tomorrow work for the other joint assignment. [Wink emoji] [party popper emoji] [volcano emoji], just let me know! Have a great day, talk with you later and see you Monday.”
• “Actually, (TMI?) other things can be hard too [Home Alone emoji].” The TMI parenthesis are his.
The notice also states that Child poked Doe in the rib cage while the two were reading something on his computer screen. The board’s termination letter to Child also said that after Doe told Child she no longer wanted to talk about sex with him, he made comments about her appearance.
“Though you made it clear to (investigator Karen) Kramer that you believed you and (Doe) were communicating merely as friends, the power dynamic between the two of you undermined the integrity of any purported friendship. You were the head of the agency that employs her. It was unreasonable for you to tell (her) that if she ever felt uncomfortable with the conversations, she should simply tell you. You were not merely friends; you had the power to promote her or terminate her employment. In fact, she received a promotion … with your assistance and encouragement — during the time this conduct was occurring,” Child’s termination letter, dated May 22, 2018, states.
Although Child resigned on May 10, he said his resignation was effective July 9, 2018. But the board’s May 22, 2018 letter fired him right then and there.
Shortly thereafter, the board appointed Teresa Herrera as its interim director and formally hired her in July 2018. She remains in that job today.
Herrera sent the following statement to the Post:
“With my 14 years tenure at Silicon Valley Clean Water, serving as the first ever female manager since 2018, I remain steadfast in cultivating a positive relationship with our commission, our member agencies, and our 220,000 customers. I focus on strong leadership and mentorship within our organization, and I place the highest emphasis on our employees’ safety and in creating a respectful and collegial atmosphere where each individual can thrive.”
Changes after Child
Herrera has also implemented a series of changes to stop something like this from happening again. This includes making employees do annual anti-harassment training and emphasize a “zero tolerance for any form of harassment.” She has also reviewed and updated every policy and standard administrative procedure to make sure they’re comprehensive, including policies relating to harassment. Each employee must sign that they’ve received, read and understand the policies.
In his letter to the Post, Child says Jane Doe approached him and that he had a bad feeling about such conversations. He said she wanted to know “what men think and want.”
“I was extremely nervous to discuss this with her and told her as much. Several times during our discussions I questioned her about the nature of the conversations and her comfort level with the discussion. I stated I was nervous that she could turn the tables on me and accuse me of sexual harassment.”
Nevertheless, the sewer agency had to pay out a total of $1.8 million to the two former employees.
$5,000 fine for talking
So why did the two get as much as they did?
According to Jane Doe’s settlement agreement, her payment was “100%” for “personal physical injuries and physical illness” that she has or will suffer. She also agreed to resign from the sewer agency.
Her agreement also has a confidentiality clause. Jane Doe could not tell anyone about the agreement except for immediate family. If she talked about it and the agency hears about it, she could face a $5,000 fine per incident.
However, she is “released” from the “confidentiality obligation” if Child files any claims against her or speaks publicly about the case. Child filed a lawsuit against the district in 2019, and this month sent the Post a letter giving his side of the story.
Meanwhile, Child got $875,000 for a few reasons — it appears that based on his employment contract, 89% of his payout was because he was entitled to 38% of the appreciation of a six-bedroom, five-and-a-half bathroom home at 379 Greendale Way in the Emerald Hills, a neighborhood overlooking Redwood City. The 6,189-square-foot home has two laundry rooms, one on each level of the home, a hot tub, emergency generator and built-in surround sound system. The garage fits four cars.
In his letter to the Post, Child asserts that he believes he settled for about $300,000 less than he thought he was owed at the time.
His agreement does not appear to have a gag order. Instead, it holds the sewer agency to follow all laws “protecting the confidentiality and nondisclosure” of Child’s personnel and other confidential records.
It appears, based on the Post’s calculations, that the settlement was near the bare minimum the board could fork over without having to go to court.
Yesterday (Feb. 24), board member Warren Lieberman, who was board president when the board agreed to its settlement with Child, said it sounds about right, but told the Post to check with Herrera. When the Post asked if he had any comment on the settlements, he said he would have to think about it.
Loophole allowed for secrecy
Former San Carlos Mayor Mark Olbert, who was on the SVCW board in 2019 when it approved Child’s settlement in closed session, said he was “dismayed” by the secrecy surrounding the “significant” settlements and the apparent loophole in state law that lets agencies keep such issues behind closed doors.
In hopes of finding something that disclosed the board’s agreements with Jane Doe and Child, the Post reviewed the minutes for every SVCW board meeting between late 2017 and August 2019. The only potential public acknowledgement appears to have occurred on May 20, 2019, when SVCW attorney Christine Fitzgerald announced that the board has “approved the final settlement agreement.” However, she didn’t identify the employee with whom the district settled or the amount of the payment.
The settlement agreement with Child was signed May 9, 2019.
Olbert, in an Aug. 13, 2019 opinion piece in the Post, pointed out the loophole that allows government agencies to approve spending money in closed session if they’re making a proposal to another party that has filed a claim or lawsuit. If the other party accepts the offer, those details don’t have to be announced at a public meeting, though they are a matter of public record.
“In the language of the law, they are released only ‘upon inquiry’ — i.e., if anyone thinks to ask,” Olbert wrote in his opinion piece.
Once the Post learned about the $875,000 payment to Child, the newspaper asked for other documents that explained the full story.
Olbert said he’s relieved the public has insight as to why such a high amount of public funds was spent, but said the long legal battle for information should not have occurred.
Timeline of the SVCW sex harassment case
2017 — Jane Doe and Dan Child begin discussing Jane Doe’s sex life.
Early 2018 — The nature of Jane Doe and Child’s conversations come to light, and the SVCW board hires a law firm to investigate.
May 7, 2018 — Child sits down with the investigator.
May 10, 2018 — Child sends resignation letter to SVCW, effective July 9, 2018.
May 15, 2018 — Jane Doe files a claim against SVCW.
May 22, 2018 — The agency’s board votes to terminate Child and a notice of termination is sent to him.
July 2018 — Teresa Herrera is hired as general manager, replacing Child.
July 2018 — Child is hired as a contractor by San Mateo for $1.4 million.
August 2018 — SVCW and Jane Doe enter mediation.
Sept. 3, 2018 — Settlement agreement with Jane Doe is signed.
April 2019 — Settlement agreement with Child signed by SVCW.
July 23, 2019 — The Post obtains a portion of the settlement agreement that outlines the $875,000 payout.
July 25, 2019 — The Post publishes story about Child’s $875,000 payout.
July through September 2019 — The Post and Silicon Valley Clean Water officials exchange a number of emails regarding the Post’s records requests. Eventually, SVCW agrees to fulfill the Post’s records request.
Sept. 26, 2019 — Child’s attorney files suit in Santa Clara County Superior Court in an attempt to block the agency from releasing documents to the Post.
Oct. 30, 2019 — The Post’s attorney files to intervene in the lawsuit between Child and SVCW.
Nov. 20, 2019 — Attorneys for SVCW and Child file a motion to move the lawsuit from Santa Clara County to San Mateo County Superior Court, which is based in Redwood City. SVCW is also located in Redwood City.
Feb. 11, 2020 — The Post asks Santa Clara County Superior Court’s office if it has sent the filing to San Mateo County and is told that the clerk is “on top of things” and suggests the holdup is on San Mateo County’s side.
March 3, 2020 — The case is formally filed in San Mateo County Superior Court.
March 16, 2020 — Bay Area Health officials tell residents to stay home due to Covid. As a result, the courts grind to a halt for civil cases.
July 10, 2020 — After multiple delays, the Post officially becomes a party or “intervenor” in the lawsuit.
Feb. 16, 2021 — Jane Doe emerges and files to be an intervenor in the lawsuit in order to oppose records related to her being released.
April 12, 2021 — Parties are ordered to enter into mediation in the hopes of settling the case. Mediation is unsuccessful.
Dec. 2, 2021 — Doe’s attorney filed papers asking to be dismissed from the case.
February 2022 — Case is settled. Documents released to the Post.