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Sexual harassment case against Yolo sheriff dismissed

Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto
Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto bnguyen@sacbee.com

A sexual harassment lawsuit targeting Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto has been thrown out of court by a Sacramento federal judge.

Yolo sheriff’s Deputy Robin Gonzalez claimed Prieto sexually harassed her over several years, but U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller said she found holes in the complaint that would not allow her to let the matter go forward as viable litigation.

In the lawsuit, filed in July 2013, Gonzalez described incidents she said occurred before March 2012, and thus fell outside the legally mandated limitations period, Muller ruled.

The facts show that “the pre-2012 conduct was not part of the same continuing practice as the post-2012 conduct,” Mueller wrote. “After March 2012, within the limitations period, only a few allegations remain,” the judge said in a 19-page order filed Friday.

Citing Gonzalez’s deposition testimony regarding the sheriff’s conduct after March 2012, Mueller determined: “Even when construed in the light most favorable to Gonzalez, these accounts describe no objectively sexual color in Prieto’s behavior.”

Reached by telephone Monday, Prieto said, “I am naturally pleased with the result. Hopefully, we can put this all behind us and move forward.”

Gonzalez, 44, is still employed by the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office.

This is the third time in 2½ years that Prieto has been exonerated of allegations that he created a hostile work environment in the Sheriff’s Office. The three lawsuits were filed on behalf of two employees and a former employee by Sacramento attorney Johnny Griffin III.

Reached by telephone Monday, Griffin said, “We are reviewing the court’s decision” in the Gonzalez case.

U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley tossed out a 2012 complaint alleging that Prieto subjected Victoria Zetwick, a now-retired correctional sergeant in the department, to unwelcome hugs and kisses.

Zetwick, “did not put forth sufficient facts to support her claims,” Nunley ruled in November.

Her appeal is pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In February 2013, Mueller granted summary judgment in favor of the defense in a complaint by Darrel Johnson, finding that he did not have enough evidence to back up his accusations of race-based harassment.

Johnson, a 46-year-old African American who is no longer with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, claimed he was “subjected to vile and reprehensible racial slurs by … Prieto,” creating a “racially hostile work environment.”

In the case decided Friday, Gonzalez claimed that Prieto’s conduct in 2012 included looking her “up and down a couple of times” on two occasions, both times in public when many other people were present, Mueller noted. He commended Gonzalez for losing weight, asked her how much weight she had lost, and told her she “looked great.”

From Gonzalez’s perspective, according to the judge’s order, he looked at her “like (she) had no clothes on” and “stared at (her) chest and hips in a sexual manner.”

“Gonzalez describes no objective basis for her belief that Prieto’s looks were sexual, let alone enough to create a ‘hostile or abusive’ employment environment,” Mueller declared. “Tellingly, Gonzalez has not provided the testimony of any witness who also believes Prieto’s glances were overtly sexual or inappropriate.

“The other two alleged post-2012 acts – Prieto’s calling her lawsuit ‘bull,’ and Gonzalez’s hearing from co-workers that they had experienced or heard of Prieto’s sexual harassment – are discrete events not similar in type or degree to the harassment she alleges occurred in 2010 and earlier,” and outside the limitations period, Mueller ruled.

Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189

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