ORANGE COUNTY IN BANKRUPTCY : O.C. Official Fights Demotion on Grounds of Bias : Management: Letter submitted to Popejoy, the first step of a formal grievance, contends that Eileen T. Walsh was victimized by Tom Uram. He denies the allegations.


Orange County’s former finance director is fighting her recent demotion and accusing county officials of sexual harassment and discrimination, according to a letter obtained Tuesday by The Times.

Eileen T. Walsh, 45, directed most of her allegations against Health Care Agency Director Tom Uram, her former boss, who removed Walsh from her post in January during his brief stint running the county administrative office on an interim basis after former CAO Ernie Schneider was relieved of his duties.

In a letter to William J. Popejoy, the county’s recently appointed chief executive officer, Walsh’s attorney, Steven J. Kaplan, refers to what he termed Uram’s “longstanding resentment toward female managers in general and Ms. Walsh in particular,” and says Uram “exhibited his bias against Ms. Walsh almost from the moment the two of them first dealt with each other” years ago.


Uram refused to comment specifically on Walsh’s accusations, saying the matter is likely to end up in court. “I’m amazed,” he said. “The accusations are just not true. . . . I’m simply amazed.” A deputy county counsel said that people she has contacted about the letter from Walsh’s attorney had categorically denied the allegations.

Walsh, a county employee since 1979, was ousted from her $93,392-a-year job as finance director Jan. 24, the day after Uram was named interim administrative officer. Before Uram returned to his regular job, he reassigned Walsh to a $75,420-a-year post in the Integrated Waste Management Department, where she began work as an administrative manager last week.

In the letter, Kaplan also criticizes Murry Cable, Walsh’s current boss, saying Cable is “well-known for his abusive behavior toward women in his department.” Cable declined to comment.

Kaplan asked that his seven-page letter, dated Feb. 22, be considered a formal grievance, and threatened legal action against the county if Walsh’s concerns are not addressed. Kaplan’s letter never spells out specifically what would appease his client, but requests a meeting with Popejoy within a week to resolve the problems informally.

Walsh declined to comment on the letter, and her attorney did not return telephone calls for comment.

“It is obvious to us that Mr. Uram was motivated by his dislike for women professionals when he decided to ruin Eileen Walsh’s career,” Kaplan wrote. “Apparently, Mr. Uram took advantage of the brief gap in responsible control of the county’s Administrative Office to rid county leaders of someone who may have been an uncomfortable reminder of their own shortcomings.”


Others have also reached out to support Walsh in recent weeks, the documents obtained Tuesday show.

Supervisor Marian Bergeson wrote Popejoy on Feb. 17 asking the new chief administrator to reinstate Walsh. And at least four companies that worked with the county on bond deals that Walsh handled have written to the supervisors asking that she be returned to the finance director slot.

“Her absence creates a void that cannot be filled at the present time by an outsider,” wrote Robert J. Whalen of the law firm Stradling, Yocca, Carlson & Roth.

“Our most urgent recommendation is that Eileen Walsh should be back on the job,” echoed Chris A. Downey, senior vice president of Foothill Ranch, a South County housing development.

“Eileen has consistently proven herself to be an extremely capable professional in representing the county, as well as a person of great integrity, intelligence and dedication,” said the Irvine Co.’s Daniel H. Tonini.

Popejoy did not return calls for comment Tuesday afternoon. Personnel director Russ Patton declined to comment, referring inquiries to Deputy County Counsel Deborah Gmeiner.


Gmeiner said the people she has contacted in response to Kaplan’s letter “deny categorically” Walsh’s allegations, but Gmeiner refused to say with whom she had spoken about the situation. She said the county will conduct an investigation into the matter, but declined to specify what the probe will involve or how long it will take.

“We really can’t say a whole lot of things about personnel matters,” Gmeiner said. “Personnel matters are very protected, something we all prize.”

In the letter, Kaplan says Walsh’s demotion violates state law, Walsh’s constitutional rights to equal protection and Walsh’s written agreement with the county.

According to the letter, Walsh signed a special contract when she was promoted to finance director in 1989 that enabled the CAO to fire her “at any time without notice, cause or hearing.” But the contract stipulated that if she were fired, Walsh would be returned to the position she held at the Health Care Agency before her promotion. Since she was instead sent to waste management, Kaplan wrote, Walsh now has the right to appeal the demotion.

In his letter, Kaplan mentions several incidents of alleged sexual harassment and discrimination by Uram and Cable against Walsh and other women.

“Uram often commented publicly about Walsh’s weight and appearance, going so far as to tell her that her thighs were getting big, that she would look better if she lost weight, and that she looked better in certain skirts than in others,” the letter states.


When Walsh was assigned to audit the Health Care Agency in 1985, “Uram stated that he did not want some ‘snot-nosed kid, especially a girl,’ reviewing his performance,” Kaplan wrote. When Walsh complained to Uram of sexual harassment by another male superior, Uram allegedly suggested they get marital counseling, the letter states.

And, according to the letter, Uram “often told off-color and offensive jokes” at weekly department head meetings, and once passed around a cartoon depicting male genitalia at such a meeting.

Kaplan accuses Uram of sending Walsh to waste management rather than back to the Health Care Agency, as her contract provides, because Uram did not want Walsh working for him again. But Kaplan also complains about Cable’s alleged history of harassment.

The letter accuses Cable of saying in 1985 that the female employees in the CAO’s office “looked like heifers” and that he wanted “good hooters” to look at. Kaplan also states that Cable once belittled Walsh and a top-ranking female county official in Walsh’s presence, using a slang word for female genitalia.

“Ms. Walsh repeatedly complained about Cable’s behavior--to Uram as well as others,” the letter says. “But Uram and the county took no action whatsoever to reprimand Cable about his unacceptable conduct.”

Times staff writer Matt Lait contributed to this story.