NewsCovering Kern County


Claim on behalf of Wooner family demands death benefit paid

Posted at 6:01 PM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-15 00:31:04-04

MCFARLAND, Calif. — On May 14, 2019 former McFarland City Manager John Wooner died following a car collision while still under employment of the City of McFarland. Months later, his family has yet to be paid his death benefit.

Wooner was last seen May 14, 2019 at Hillcrest Cemetery in Bakersfield and was reported missing soon after. That July, California Highway Patrol pulled his vehicle out of the Kern River. David Tooley was named interim city manager in Wooner's absence.

On Nov. 14, 2019, Attorney Ralph B. Wegis filed a claim to Tooley on behalf of the estate of John Wooner and family. The claim outlined multiple issues including a $75,000 severance payment due to Mrs. Wooner.

The second issue involves severance benefits as part of Wooner's employment agreement. This agreement provides that: "In the event of a termination by the City Council prior to the end of the term and where the termination is without cause, Wooner shall receive severance pay" and that pay "shall be payable in a lump sum no later than the next regular payday after the date of termination."

The city of McFarland tried to avoid this agreement by attempting to terminate Wooner for "cause" in the form of "absence without leave" by a letter, sent June 19, 2019. Wooner had been dead over a month by that time.

The last issue cites worker's compensation benefits Wooner was due because he died while employed as well as operating a city-owned vehicle.

The claim formally demands mandated burial expenses, dependent support and the mandated death benefits all be paid to Jennifer Wooner.

According to the Nov. 14, 2019 court document, Wooner's family still awaits word from the city.