NEW YORK and LOS ANGELES, San Diego County has agreed to pay $97,500 in a settlement after the District Attorney’s Office refused to turn over records of sexual harassment and misconduct by its employees.
The records were discovered when The First Amendment Coalition (FAC), a San Rafael-based nonprofit that focuses on government accountability and open records, sued the county for the records in July 2018. The suit was to test the state’s compliance with the state’s public records law.
The San Diego County DA’s office declined to provide certain records, citing that employees did not “occupy positions of such public trust and responsibility,” and provided detailed summaries of the records instead.
While other DA offices refused to provide records as well, none provided the excuses that San Diego did. The FAC disagreed with San Diego and took them to court, and a San Diego Superior Court judge sided with the coalition ordering the DA’s office to turn over the documents. The county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to settle the coalition’s claims.
The documents indicated that on five separate occasions between July 2013 and May 2017, there were incidents ranging from sexual comments and unwelcome physical contact taking place to taking nude photos in the workplace. The original summaries included six incidents; one is missing from the newly released documents.
One incident uncovered in the documents details how, in April 2016, Deputy District Attorney Michael MacNeil was accused of misconduct for allegedly sending emails containing nude photos of him in the workplace and copies of him “sexting” an unknown person.
In another case in May 2017, a student employee who reported to senior IT engineer Alberto Lepe, made several complaints about unwelcome touching, derogatory comments and racist language, according to records. The DA’s office investigated the complaints, corroborated two of them, and issued Lepe a warning letter. The student employee was transferred to a new position, where records show she was happy with the change.
Three other employees were cited in three other incidents: Don Morton, for making lewd comments to a female subordinate for months; Andel Williams, who made explicit comments about women when told a female colleague was promoted over him; and Desmond Townsend who received a warning letter following comments made about a female subordinate’s work attire in reference to her body made in front of others.
Carney Shegerian, the founder of Los Angeles-based employee rights law firm Shegerian & Associates, has weighed in on the suit.
“The First Amendment Coalition did the right thing by holding the District Attorney’s Office accountable, as they are here to serve the law, not be above it,” he said.
About Shegerian & Associates:
Shegerian & Associates has won clients over $300 million in employment-based disputes and maintains a 98% success rate. We have offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and New York.