The California Horse Racing Board must pay former steward Pamela Berg $400,000 in an out-of-court settlement of a 2009 lawsuit she filed against the agency alleging discrimination and harassment based on age and gender.
Berg, 66, served as a steward on the California fair circuit and as an associate steward at Golden Gate Fields and Bay Meadows from 1988 to 2006.
She is also the owner of the Glen Ellen Vocational Academy, an 8 1/2-acre ranch in the rural hills of Sonoma County, Calif. that is dedicated to retired race horses. Berg was named the 2004 Dogwood Dominion Award for her single-handed efforts to save injured or retired race horses.
Berg alleged in depositions supporting her Sacramento County Superior Court lawsuit that the CHRB gave preference to less qualified male racing stewards when making assignments to the state's larger tracks. She contended that board superiors refused to honor her 2006-07 contract and failed to renew her contract after it expired. She charged that the action was in retaliation against her for earlier discrimination claims.
She said the settlement helps compensate her for lost income, but "was not really satisfying."
"I'm sorry it came to this," Berg said. "To be honest, I'd have preferred to keep working while I could. But I hope I was able to make a point. And if it helps someone else facing this sort of thing in the future, I think it was worth it."
For a couple of years, she was assigned as a steward at Cal Expo, a night-time harness meet in Sacramento, some 80 miles from her ranch.
Berg said she believes that assignment, as well as the refusal of Ingrid Fermin, then the CHRB's executive director, to assign to other steward posts, came as the result of retaliation for Berg filing an earlier discrimination claim against the board. She won a judgement in that 1996 case and negotiated an $80,000 award, she said.
She said Fermin never explained her reasons for denying her assignments. "She said they wanted to make a change (In stewards)," Berg said. "And I guess I was the change."
When she requested subsequent assignments, Berg said she was given no response.
Following a review of the allegations and lawsuit discovery, the CHRB agreed to a settlement with Berg during executive session of the commission's June 22 meeting at Hollywood Park. Under its terms, she is to receive $400,000, of which $100,000 is in the form of a 10-year annuity with an approximate cost to the state of $92,000.
A bill that would appropriate $392,000 from the state's horse racing fund to the Department of Justice to pay Berg's settlement was approved by by both the State Senate and Assembly July 1. It now goes to the governor's office for his signature.
A CHRB spokesman said the money for the settlement is to come from a contingency fund set up for emergencies.
Berg is a well known figure within the California racing industry. In addition to her work as a steward and through GEVA, she has worked as a horse identifier, a trainer, and owned and operated a Thoroughbred breeding farm.