The CEO of a Malibu rehabilitation center said Thursday that he fired the facility’s former human resources director after two months on the job because she did not perform up to par and not because she reported alleged workplace violations.
Pax Prentiss told a Los Angeles Superior Court jury that Cynthia Begazo did not follow his orders to meet soon after she was hired with the managers at other Passages Malibu centers, did not put in the extra time she needed to get the department up and running and failed to assist in recruiting.
“She didn’t meet these expectations,” Prentiss said.
Begazo’s wrongful termination lawsuit, filed in September 2015, alleges retaliation, as well as age and disability discrimination. In addition to Passages Malibu, the named defendants are Grasshopper House LLC; Passages Silverstrand in Port Hueneme; Passages Malibu co-founders Chris Prentiss and his son, Pax; and Passages’ chief operating officer Marina Mahoney, who was Begazo’s supervisor.
The suit states that Begazo, then 53, told her supervisors that she had leukemia when she was hired in March 2015.
The same month she got the job, Begazo says she informed Pax Prentiss that some maintenance workers, housekeepers and kitchen servers were not receiving overtime pay or meal or rest breaks.
“Prentiss replied, `Don’t worry about it, you have bigger things to worry about,”‘ the suit alleges.
Prentiss testified that his initial impressions of Begazo were positive. He said he was so enthusiastic about her background and willingness to put in the time and effort he required that he agreed to pay her $150,000 a year, $10,000 more than he planned.
“I thought she had a really good understanding of labor law,” Prentiss said. “It was a good interview.”
Prentiss said he believed Begazo was excited to get started and that she was grateful for the extra pay. Instead, Begazo failed to do most of the things he asked and many of the other managers inquired, “Who’s Cynthia? I’ve never met her,” according to Prentiss.
In April 2015, a patient at the Ventura facility was found dead in his room with a bag and a trash can over his head and scratch marks on his face, the suit states.
The plaintiff maintains that Mahoney spoke to detectives about the patient’s death, but after Begazo insisted that the incident also be reported to the proper civil authorities and the facility’s insurance carrier, Mahoney replied, “I don’t want you reporting any of it” and walked out of the room.
But Prentiss and Mahoney told jurors a different story about the Ventura incident.
Prentiss said he was told Begazo simply went to her office after arriving in Ventura, and Mahoney testified that Begazo did not immediately join the other managers in a conference room to join in discussions of the death.
She arrived later, but left to go back to her office when her cell phone rang and did did not obey Mahoney’s request to set up a crisis-intervention team for the employees, Mahoney said.
Mahoney said she reported Begazo’s behavior after the incident to Prentiss.
“That for me was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Prentiss said.
Begazo says she took a week off in early May 2015 after she contracted an infection related to her leukemia. She says she returned to work two months later, but was told the same day that she was being fired.
— City News Service
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