Water district pays $57,500 to settle employee’s lawsuit alleging sexism

The Irvine Ranch Water District paid nearly $60,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an employee who alleged she was forced to do sexist, menial tasks because she is female.

Karen Bonecki, an analyst with the water district, received $57,500 to drop the lawsuit she filed last year in Orange County Superior Court, according to a settlement agreement reviewed by the Daily Pilot.

The settlement was signed in February but not disclosed publicly until Thursday after the Daily Pilot filed a public records request to review it.

Irvine Ranch provides water service to Irvine and parts of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

Bonecki alleged in her lawsuit that Patrick Sheilds, executive director of operations at the district, treated her “like his own personal servant.”

She claimed Sheilds forced her to clean his desk, remind him about appointments and do other busywork not required of white, male employees. Bonecki is Asian American.

The settlement specifies that the water district and Sheilds do not admit any wrongdoing. It also requires Bonecki to resign after receiving the money.

Sheilds and a district spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The agreement includes a confidentiality clause. It also bars the parties from disparaging each other.

According to her lawsuit, the district hired Bonecki in 2007 as an engineering technician, promoted her to executive secretary four months later and then to analyst in 2008.

After Sheilds became her supervisor in 2013, Bonecki was, according to allegations in the lawsuit, required to do personal tasks for her boss, such as buy gifts for people and enter contacts into his personal cellphone.

“Ms. Bonecki was one of only two women in her entire office department of 150 employees,” the lawsuit stated. “Mr. Sheilds treated Ms. Bonecki with extreme disrespect because she is a woman and because she is … Asian American.”

After complaining about Sheilds, Bonecki was passed over for a promotion in retaliation, the lawsuit alleged.

Bonecki was represented by Costa Mesa Councilwoman Katrina Foley, a lawyer who specializes in employment cases. Foley declined to comment about the settlement.