Former MTS employee files lawsuit for retaliation

Employee said he stood up for co-worker

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A former employee of the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System is suing the agency for retaliation after he said he stood up for a co-worker.

Ivan Augustino moved to the United States from Sudan and still volunteers with projects for his native country. He started working for MTS in 2015.

“It was pretty good,” Augustino said.

Augustino worked as a Senior Applications Developer.

“I am the main guy that deals with the complicated back end computer codes,” Augustino said.

In 2017, he said he made a move that changed everything. It started with a co-worker.

“One morning, she walked into my office pretty much in tears,” Augustino said.

He said that a co-worker confided to him the Chief Information Officer discriminated against her when she asked about a promotion. The lawsuit filed against MTS claims the CIO told Augustino’s co-worker she was “not qualified for the job because of her age, her marriage and family planning status, and her relationship to an active duty military service member.”

“The other question she also asked was, how old are you? You seem like you are at an age where you would be having kids,” Augustino said. It was a shocking conversation.

“You know, that is wrong,” Augustino said.

After his co-worker told him what happened, he first asked advice from another co-worker who then took it to human resources. Augustino said his co-worker did not want to bring the complaint to HR.

“The last thing that anyone within the IT department wants is to take an issue to HR because once you report it to HR, there is going to be retaliation,” Augustino said.

And that’s what happened, according to the former MTS employee. Initially, he was concerned how MTS investigated the complaint.

“I was expecting someone to at least come and talk to me, but no one spoke to me,” Augustino said.

He said retaliation began by the CIO and his direct supervisor.

“The way they treated me just changed,” Augustino said.

He claimed management suggested they would give him recommendations if he found another job. On another occasion, Augustino said they “mocked [his] English as a second language” in an email. On top of that, he said 98 hours of paid time off promised to him for working overtime on a big project was revoked, along with a promised promotion.

“Coming from where I come from, I just felt like I did not even know what to do,” Augustino said.

Feeling “degraded” and “intimidated”, he submitted a letter of resignation. However, he said he gave management an option.

“If you can address this issue and the executive team and bring what I view as retaliation to a stop, I will pull my resignation,” Augustino said. Instead, he said he was fired and walked out of the building by security. His termination came a little over a month after he voiced his concerns about his female co-worker.

A spokesperson for MTS told Team 10: “There is absolutely no validity to any of Mr. Augustino’s claims.”

When asked if he would defend his co-worker again, Augustino said “absolutely.”

Attorneys Zachary Schumacher and Daniel Goularte represent Augustino.

"This is absolutely a David versus Goliath situation," Schumacher said.

Schumacher said fear is why people don't speak up.

"I like to compare it to battered wives syndrome, where you essentially have this person or in this case this entity who has this major power and balance who is doing all sorts of awful things and figuratively at least, battering its employees and yet they don't leave. They feel this sense of loyalty," Schumacher said. 

Team 10 was not able to get in touch with his female co-worker, but the lawsuit stated that she has since been moved to a “lonely, quiet corner of the office.”

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