Capitol Alert

California Senate paid $89,500 to employee fired after argument over Colin Kaepernick

The Senate settled with a former district employee of Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, seen here in 2013.
The Senate settled with a former district employee of Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, seen here in 2013. The Sacramento Bee file

The California Senate earlier this year reached a five-figure settlement with a former employee over allegations of discrimination and retaliation, including that he was fired for complaining about illegal political activities, sexual trysts and racist behavior in the office.

In January, the Senate agreed to pay $89,500 to Douglas L. Miller, a former district representative for Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, two weeks after a Sacramento County judge allowed his lawsuit to proceed to trial.

The Bee obtained a copy of the settlement, in which the Senate and other defendants “expressly deny any unlawful conduct or employment practices,” this week through a Legislative Open Records Act request.

Miller, through his lawyer, declined to discuss the case, as did the Senate. Berryhill’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Miller worked for Berryhill from 2006 through August 2013, according to court documents, when he was terminated following a Senate human resources investigation into an office argument over then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s tattoos and whether he was a good role model. A week after the “heated” discussion, Miller’s supervisor reported the incident. He was subsequently placed on administrative leave and fired the next month.

In his lawsuit, which was filed in October 2014, Miller alleged that he was retaliated against for raising concerns about a “hostile work environment.” His co-worker, with whom he argued over Kaepernick, was not placed on administrative leave or terminated.

He also stated that “interpersonal tensions” at the time were elevated because of an ongoing Fair Political Practice Commission investigation into Berryhill, who was ultimately fined $40,000 for colluding with his brother and two county Republican committees to circumvent campaign contribution limits. Miller said his co-workers regarded him as the “likely inside source of information for the FPPC prosecution,” because he had been reporting misconduct to Berryhill’s chief of staff at the Capitol for years without any action.

When the district office moved to Modesto in 2011, Miller said in his lawsuit, his supervisor set up a room there to serve as a campaign office and illegally required him to assist Berryhill “in making campaign calls during business hours.” He alleged that he had to leave the office “during work hours and lock the front door” so that his supervisor, “a married man, could have a ‘meeting’ with his paramour.”

Miller, who is Latino, also claimed that he “experienced and was forced to tolerate offensive and unprofessional racist, sexist, and homophobic comments and biases.”

Amid the Senate inquiry into the Kaepernick argument, Miller said he tried to inform investigators of the offensive behavior and that he believed he was being targeted for retaliation, but that he was ignored.

In a December 2016 ruling, Sacramento Superior Court Judge David Brown threw out a harassment claim, noting that Miller acknowledged participating in “inappropriate workplace behavior,” such as laughing at discriminatory jokes. But he allowed the discrimination and retaliation claims to proceed, pointing to the “short timeline” between Miller’s complaints about his workplace to Senate investigators and his termination.

Two weeks later, the Senate settled with Miller, providing the taxpayer-funded payout and changing his personnel file so it would not show he was terminated.

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Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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