A former senior Vallejo employee who raised concerns about alleged illegal dealings by city officials has settled her whistleblower lawsuit against the city for $1 million, according to her attorney. 

The City of Vallejo reached a settlement with Joanna Altman, who worked as an assistant to City Manager Greg Nyhoff before he terminated her nearly four years ago, during a closed session of the city council late last month. The city has since paid Altman, her attorney Randall Strauss said in an interview Tuesday.  

“It’s a significant victory, and it’s a substantial amount. It justifies what she’s been saying all this time,” Strauss told Open Vallejo. But, he said, the settlement “doesn’t reverse everything she’s been through, losing her job and having her reputation smeared.” 

In February 2021, Altman and two other former employees sued Vallejo alleging that Nyhoff engaged in “improper, unethical, corrupt, and illegal” conduct and fostered a hostile environment rife with discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, according to the complaint

The complaint also alleged that Nyhoff renegotiated a land development deal on Mare Island in favor of a private developer and to the detriment of the city. That deal was a significant cause for concern among the whistleblowers, according to the lawsuit. Nyhoff resigned from his position in July of 2021. He could not immediately be reached for comment. 

Although Vallejo has settled with Altman, the city is set to go to trial over claims brought in the same lawsuit by Slater Matzke and Will Morat, who both worked in senior roles in the city manager’s office alongside Altman. The trial is scheduled for October, said Strauss, who represents all three plaintiffs.

A spokesperson for the city of Vallejo declined to comment for this story, citing the ongoing litigation.

“They’re still in this fight against the city,” Altman said of her former colleagues in an interview Tuesday. “So as they move forward to potential trial, I’m with them every step of the way.”

Altman, Matzke and Morat were fired in April 2020 after discussing their concerns about Nyhoff during a third-party investigation ordered by the city council, which the employees later described in their lawsuit as a “sham.” Although the interviews were supposed to be confidential, they were ultimately shared with Nyhoff, who was cleared of wrongdoing and fired his critics the day after the investigation ended, according to the lawsuit. 

Strauss said his clients tried to address what they believed was illegal conduct. 

“They stood up and tried to do something about it, and they ended up getting fired, which speaks to a culture that I think the citizens of Vallejo should be questioning and wondering about and demanding change,” he said. 

Altman said Tuesday that while she feels vindicated by the settlement, Vallejo’s ongoing dysfunction shows that more transparency is needed.

“At the end of the day, it’s not over for the community,” she said, adding that she hopes her settlement “gives a little bit of confidence to” others considering coming forward.

“I hope it sets an example, for any whistleblower anywhere, not just with the city of Vallejo,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to stand up and speak out on those things that you’re witnessing.”

Altman told Open Vallejo that she is proud of her years with the city of Vallejo.

“This community, it means something to me. That’s why I chose to work there and why I was so happy to work there,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to know that so many decisions by so few bad actors can lead into something that can’t be undone.”

Geoffrey King contributed to this report.

Anna Bauman is an investigative reporter with Open Vallejo.