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Former deputy sues San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus, claims retaliation for lack of endorsement


Former deputy sues San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus, claims retaliation for lack of endorsement

REDWOOD CITY — A former acting sergeant and union leader said he was unfairly demoted out of retaliation for refusing to endorse San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus ahead of the June 2022 election, according to a recently filed lawsuit.

David Wozniak, 50, said he was sent back to work as a line deputy last year after speaking out against Corpus and organizing a political action committee that backed her opponent. Wozniak specifically blamed the demotion on Corpus and her chief of staff, Victor Aenlle, who are both listed as defendants in the lawsuit, along with the county.

Collectively, Corpus and Aenlle viewed Wozniak and his work with the San Mateo County Deputy Sheriff’s Association as a “problem” and a “headache” for the sheriff’s office, the lawsuit alleged.

His subsequent demotion “sends a message that if you take part in union activity, and challenge her, that you will be punished,” Wozniak, a former president of the deputies’ union, said in an interview with this newspaper. He retired from the office at the end of February.

“I would hope that the courts would send a message that union activity is protected in San Mateo County,” Wozniak added. “Unions speak for the line level employee, and that is important to have their voices heard.”

The lawsuit, which was filed last month in San Mateo County Superior Court, argues that Wozniak lost pay and pension benefits with the demotion. It does not, however, list a specific dollar figure for damages being sought.

In a statement, a San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Gretchen Spiker said that the office “will vigorously defend itself from these false claims.” She emphasized that “acting” positions are “a temporary out of class assignment with no guarantee of a promotion.”

“This sheriff has consistently demonstrated her commitment to fairness, and people who display strong leadership skills and a desire for professional growth are promoted,” the statement read.

The alleged dispute stems from a spring 2022 decision by a political action committee to back Corpus’ political opponent, then-Sheriff Carlos Bolanos. Wozniak set up the committee and said its aim was to advance the interests of the deputies’ union he led.

According to the suit, Corpus refused to answer a questionnaire that was distributed by the committee ahead of the endorsement. Its questions were selected by Wozniak, and it delved into each candidate’s policy positions, financial priorities and backgrounds.

Rather than fill it out, Corpus took a “hostile and resistant” approach to the survey, the lawsuit claimed. She went on to call it a “charade orchestrated by my opponent, which is little more than an extension of the existing power structure,” the lawsuit said.

Corpus later scored a decisive victory in that election — avoiding a runoff and becoming one of California’s first Latina sheriffs, as well as the first woman elected sheriff in San Mateo County’s 166-year history and the first challenger in decades to defeat an incumbent sheriff.

The lawsuit — first reported by the Palo Alto Daily Post — alleges that Corpus voiced her dislike for Wozniak as far back as spring 2022, citing an anonymous email sent from someone in Corpus’ campaign to her opponent, Bolanos. And it alleged that Aenlle also voiced his distaste for Wozniak “to multiple employees within the Sheriffs Office,” though the lawsuit provided few details.

The lawsuit said Aenlle was a “close friend” of Corpus who first was an advisor to her campaign before being named to her transition team as she prepared to take office. Once sworn in, Corpus hired Aenlle and promoted him to the newly-created position of “executive director of administration,” the lawsuit said.

Wozniak said he was among three deputies promoted to acting sergeant in August 2021, working under a probationary status while waiting to be elevated to a full-fledged sergeant, the lawsuit said.

Yet on Feb. 13, 2023 — roughly six weeks after Corpus took office — he received a letter addressed from Corpus stating that his time as acting sergeant was ending, and that the would be returning to his previous job as deputy sheriff.

The move came despite there being were “no issues” with Wozniak’s performance as an acting sergeant, and “by all appearances he was headed towards a promotion,” the lawsuit said. Just two months earlier, he received a “positive” performance review from a lieutenant who “relayed to him that he was doing a good job in the role,” the lawsuit added.

Wozniak told the newspaper that he was surprised at Corpus’ reaction to the questionnaire, adding that she may have received the committee’s endorsement had she filled it out.

“It’s not just the politics, but it’s union activity in general that she has shown a disdain for,” Wozniak said.

Jakob Rodgers is a senior breaking news reporter. Call, text or send him an encrypted message via Signal at 510-390-2351, or email him at [email protected].

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