Will Kamala Harris be Plagued by Settlement of Sexual Harassment Lawsuits During her Tenure as CA Attorney General?

Will Presidential Democratic Candidate Kamala Harris be Plagued by Settlement of Sexual Harassment Lawsuits During her Tenure as California’s Attorney General? 

The Los Angeles Times reported that the California Department of Justice paid more than 1.1 Million Dollars to settle claims with employees who alleged that they were sexually harassed or retaliated against by co-workers from 2011 – 2017, during the time Presidential Democratic Candidate Kamala Harris served as California’s Attorney General, the state’s “top cop.” 

The cases were disclosed in response to a request under the California Public Records Act just weeks after Ms. Harris launched her presidential bid. The incidents included allegations that Department of Justice (“DOJ”) employees sexually harassed and retaliated against co-workers, including claims involving inappropriate touching and cases in which workers felt uncomfortable with the comments and actions of others. 

Ms. Harris, a Democrat who was elected to the California Senate in 2016, contends through her spokesperson, Chris Harris, that she did not know about the cases settled by the DOJ until they were brought to her attention by The Los Angeles Times. The settlements paid by California on claims filed during Harris’ tenure included a previously reported $400,000 payment to settle a 2016 lawsuit involving Larry Wallace, a longtime top aide to Harris who resigned from her Senate staff in December after media reports surfaced regarding the $400,000 payment. Mr. Wallace was one of Harris’ closest aides for 14 years, but many of the settlements disclosed were paid out to rank-and-file employees in the DOJ.  Danielle Hartley, an executive assistant who worked for Wallace, alleged in the lawsuit that he engaged in gender harassment and discriminated against her. A spokesperson for Ms. Harris stated in December that Senator Harris was unaware of the allegations against Mr. Wallace. 

The largest settlement from Harris’ tenure as state Attorney General was a $649,500 payment in 2013 to James Rodriguez, who was then a special agent with the DOJ. He claimed that the agency harassed and retaliated against him and failed to take corrective action when he filed complaints about the alleged treatment. Mr. Rodriguez stated in his lawsuit that he was transferred from coveted jobs, denied pay for out-of-class assignments and faced a meritless internal affairs complaint, and that the department invited co-workers to file frivolous complaints against him. Jill Telfer, an attorney who represented Mr. Rodriguez, as well as Ms. Hartley in the separate case against Mr. Wallace, stated to the Los Angeles Times that Ms. Harris should have known about the issues.

In a statement, Ms. Harris wrote, “[a]s the chief executive of a department of nearly 5,000 employees, the buck stopped with me. No one should face harassment or intimidation in the workplace, and victims of sexual misconduct should be listened to, believed and protected.”

Ms. Harris indicated that since she was elected to the Senate, she informed her staff that she would be involved whenever there is an allegation of misconduct by an employee. She said,

“[i[n my Senate office, if a harassment complaint is made, it immediately comes to me…No office is immune to misconduct, and there is much more work to do to ensure all are protected.”

Ms. Harris further stated, through her representatives, that she increased the investigative staff of the DOJ’s Equal Employment Rights and Resolution Office to speed up reviews of worker misconduct complaints and settlements were handled by administrators who were expected to follow strict policies against harassment, with training required for all employees.

In her first term in the Senate, Ms. Harris has been a strong advocate for the #MeToo movement, vocally objecting to President Trump’s appointment of Brett M. Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court due to allegations of sexual misconduct. She proposed the Empower Act to reduce barriers preventing victims of harassment from speaking out by prohibiting nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses in legal settlements which has now become law.

So far, the allegations involving Mr. Wallace have not proved to be a major hurdle for Ms. Harris….

For more information on employment-related claims, or settlement of such claims, feel free to contact Lisa Sherman at (424) 249-8631 or [email protected] 

 

Lisa Sherman
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California Employer Defense Attorney