Supervisors stage fake armed robbery to test cashiers. $360,000 for emotional distress. Kern County.


Water district supervisors say they wanted to test how cashiers would react in life-threatening situation, so they stage an armed robbery.

The Case

  • Case Name: Kathy Lee v. West Kern Water District
  • Court and Case Number: Kern County Superior Court / S-1500-CV-277481
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, July 17, 2014
  • Date Action was Filed: Friday, August 24, 2012
  • Type of Case: Assault and Battery, Employment, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Lorna Brumfield
  • Plaintiffs:
    Kathy Lee, 55, accounting clerk
  • Defendants:
    West Kern Water District, Gary H., Sam T., Virginia M., and Harry S.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $360,000
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    All defendants were found jointly and severally liable by way of a civil conspiracy, per plaintiff's counsel.

    Per defense counsel: There is a question as to whether Harry S. was found liable. He certainly was not found liable under the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Because of confusion with the verdict form, the judge will determine if he was found liable under the assault theory.

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:


  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $360,000 for emotional distress.

  • Punitive Damages:


  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 9 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 3 days

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    R. Rex Parris Law Firm by Alexander R. Wheeler, Lancaster.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Clifford & Brown by Arnold Anchordoquy, Bakersfield.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Anthony Reading, Ph.D., psychology, Beverly Hills.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    On July 29, 2011, four supervisors of the West Kern Water District decided to test how well their cashier employees would fare in a life-threatening situation. That day, these defendants planned and staged an armed robbery of the District’s office. They intentionally kept the staged armed robbery a secret from their employees in an effort to make it appear as real as possible.

    On July 29, 2011, at approximately 10:00 a.m., defendant Gary H. entered the District's office wearing a ski mask and sunglasses. In his hands he carried a paper bag with a note that read, “I have a gun. Put your money in the bag.” He approached plaintiff Kathy Lee, slammed the bag on the counter in front of her, and aggressively gestured to the note to indicate that he was armed. When plaintiff froze with fear, Gary H. started pounding on the counter and continued to point to his written note. Terrified, plaintiff began filling the bag with money as Gary H. continued to pound and point at the threat of a gun.

    After plaintiff filled the bag with money, Gary H. snatched it out of plaintiff’s hands and fled the scene. It was only after the robbery ended that the other managers entered the office and informed the employees that the robbery had all been staged.

    Plaintiff responded by breaking down and crying hysterically. She was on medical leave for 3 months before returning to work, initially part-time but then full time after two weeks.  Her only claim in the lawsuit was for non-economic emotional distress damages. She had no claim for lost wages or any economic damages.



  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    Plaintiff sued for assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant claimed that workers' compensation was the plaintiff's sole and exclusive remedy. The jury rejected that defense in a 10-2 verdict in the first phase of the trial.

    Defense contended that all four defendants did not plan and implement the mock robbery exercise as it was carried out; that two of the four defendants, Virginia M. and Gary H., put the plan together either on the day before the event or on the morning of the event. 

    Defendant Gary H., the mock robber, denied “ slamming” the bag on the counter.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Emotional distress.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: 0
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: 0
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: 0
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: 0

Demands and Offers

  • Defendant §998 Offer: $30,000

Additional Notes

Per defense counsel:

There had been a theory or cause of action under the Unruh Act and a prayer for punitive damages, which were dismissed by the court by way of a directed verdict.