SMUD manager said he'd throw Hispanic employees 'over the wall,' lawsuit alleges

Atrium at SMUD’s offices in East Sacramento.
Atrium at SMUD’s offices in East Sacramento.

A Sacramento Municipal Utility District employee is suing the regional electricity provider, saying it allowed a hostile work environment in which a manager allegedly made sexually inappropriate comments to female employees and said Mexican workers would be deported.

Diane Clark, a 28-year SMUD employee, said she lost $20,000 in salary when she was demoted as a result of filing a complaint, and she filed a lawsuit against the company and her manager on June 11 alleging sexual harassment, gender discrimination, race harassment, race discrimination and retaliation.

The lawsuit claims that Clark's manager, James Leigh-Kendall, who is SMUD's director of reliability compliance and coordination, repeatedly made discriminatory statements to Clark, who is of Mexican descent.

Clark, 49, said Leigh-Kendall told her that when Donald Trump became president, she would have to return to Mexico. He repeatedly said, "I'd build a wall and throw (Clark) and other Hispanic SMUD employees over the wall," the lawsuit said.

Clark said Leigh-Kendall also made a variety of sexually inappropriate comments and invaded her personal space while reviewing documents with her. He commented on the dresses and skirts she wore to work, told her what she should wear, asked her whether she was dating anyone, told female employees about a sexual fantasy he had and said "women should be in the home barefoot and pregnant," the lawsuit alleges.

Leigh-Kendall also made derogatory comments that he called "Nazi jokes" at staff meetings, Clark said.

SMUD spokesman Christopher Capra Sr. said the company "generally denies" the allegations but prefers not to comment on human resources issues involving current employees.

Clark, who was a regulatory compliance analyst, said she filed a human resources complaint in mid-2016, but HR determined her claims had no merit. She was transferred to a new manager in February 2017 "with no corrective or remedial action taken against the director," the lawsuit said.

Clark's new manager knew about her complaint, Clark said, and treated her differently from other employees. He required Clark to report to him about when and where she took her lunch breaks and "in an outrageous fashion began openly accusing (Clark) of lacking integrity in connection with her work."

That September, she filed a complaint with California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which caused SMUD to demote her "without cause" to the customer service department a month later, she said. Clark lost more than $20,000 in salary annually due to the demotion, the lawsuit said.

Anthony Perez Jr., Clark's attorney, said she was not available for comment but that her experience "has been confirmed by numerous SMUD employees."

“We now see Trump’s racist comments about Mexican employees and building a wall being repeated by management of a California employer," Perez said. "This cannot and will not be tolerated in California."

Leigh-Kendall did not respond to requests for comment.

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