Capitol Alert

The details behind 10 big sexual harassment payouts by the state of California

Tyann Sorrell talks about her $1.7 million sexual harassment settlement with UC Berkeley School of Law at the office of her lawyer, Leslie Levy, in Oakland on Wednesday, January 10, 2018.
Tyann Sorrell talks about her $1.7 million sexual harassment settlement with UC Berkeley School of Law at the office of her lawyer, Leslie Levy, in Oakland on Wednesday, January 10, 2018. Special to The Sacramento Bee

California settled sexual harassment claims against state agencies, prisons and public universities totaling more than $25 million over a three-year period ending in 2017. This list shows the 10 biggest settlements, each with a key document that has a significant passage highlighted (the entire document is also available). Warning: Some documents contain explicit language.

1. Allegation: Sex acts for goods and privileges

Where: Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Plaintiffs: Guillermo Ruelas, Oscar Miranda, Alejandro Espinoza

Background: The young men, all wards of a youth correctional facility in Southern California, accused staff counselor James Shelby of using his power to coerce them into sex acts in exchange for goods and privileges. The lawsuit contended that Shelby punished wards who did not respond to his sexual advances and, in some cases, directed other wards to physically assault those who rebuffed him. Shelby denied the charges in court and suggested their motive was revenge for his actions as a peace officer. The Herman G. Stark Youth Correctional Facility in Chino has since closed.

Settlement: $10 million

Date signed: March 2016

  

 

2. Allegation: UC dean harassed executive assistant

Where: University of California

Plaintiff: Tyann Sorrell

Background: Sorrell, an executive assistant in the UC Berkeley School of Law, accused the new dean, Sujit Choudhry, of inappropriately hugging, touching and kissing her after his arrival in 2014. UC found he had violated its sexual harassment and violence policies, cut his pay by 10 percent and required him to apologize to Sorrell. Amid campus backlash, Choudhry stepped down as dean in March 2016 but remained a tenured faculty member, then began a one-year unpaid sabbatical on June 1, 2017. He will resign “in good standing” on May 31, according to his agreement with UC.

Settlement: $1.7 million

Date signed: March 2017

 

 

3. Allegation: Indecent exposure by inmates

Where: Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Plaintiff: Sophia Curry

Background: Curry, a correctional officer at California State Prison-Sacramento (New Folsom), joined other female correctional workers in accusing the department of creating a hostile work environment at its prisons by not adequately dealing with inmates’ indecent exposure behavior and exhibitionist masturbation. Curry wrote up one inmate for openly masturbating, saying he was a “threat to all female staff,” but he was not placed in solitary confinement. A week later, the prisoner brutally assaulted Curry while she was working alone without her partner.

Settlement: $1.6 million

Date signed: September 2015

 

 

4. Allegation: Rape by professor

Where: UC Santa Cruz

Plaintiff: Luz Portillo

Background: Portillo, a student at UC Santa Cruz, accused one of her professors, Hector Perla, of rape after a night of heavy drinking with him on the eve of Portillo’s June 2015 graduation. The next day, she was reporting the incident to police and missed her ceremony. Perla was placed on involuntary leave with pay from August 2015 to June 2016, when he resigned after formal disciplinary proceedings against him had begun. Portillo, who has been critical of the university’s handling of her case, says she chose to be identified and to talk openly about the rape to help other victims and to influence policy changes on campuses.

Settlement: $1.15 million

Date signed: January 2017

Note: Redactions by the University of California.

5. Allegation: Video camera in bathroom

Where: Department of State Hospitals; Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Plaintiffs: Dana Kymla, Katherine Politovich, Tonya Juneau and 31 others

Background: In April 2015, a video camera was discovered by a Department of State Hospitals employee, hidden underneath a sink in a coed restroom at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton. The device was aimed at the toilet and set to record mode. Edmund Corpuz, a unit supervisor at the facility, later admitted to planting the camera. He confessed during an interview with an internal affairs investigator from Corrections while his home was being searched. Corpuz resigned and was criminally prosecuted for multiple misdemeanors in San Joaquin County. He was sentenced for eight violations of the penal code on disorderly conduct, according to a court filing from the Attorney General’s Office.

Settlement: $784,500

Date signed: May 2017

 

 

6. Allegation: Offensive sexual comments and ogling

Where: Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Plaintiff: Irma B. Sanchez

Background: Sanchez, a correctional officer at California State Prison-Corcoran, said she began to be subjected in October 2009 to unwelcome sexual advances and offensive sexual comments from a fellow male guard, Sydney Smyth. A correctional officer since 1994, Sanchez said in her lawsuit that she complained repeatedly to superiors about his conduct toward her and other female employees, but the behavior continued until at least February 2012, the lawsuit stated. In addition to inappropriate comments, court documents say, Smyth would “stop, stand and stare at her breasts” as well as her crotch. A jury found in Sanchez’s favor in 2015 and the state settled in 2016 for $750,000, the highest amount paid by Corrections to an individual plaintiff in the last three fiscal years.

Settlement: $750,000

Date signed: February 2016

 

 

7. Allegation: Highway Patrol supervisor harassed her

Where: California Highway Patrol

Plaintiff: Carmyn Fields

Background: Fields was an office assistant at the California Highway Patrol headquarters in Sacramento when a new supervisor, Leonard Johnson III, joined the agency in December 2011. Over the next three months, according to Fields’ lawsuit, Johnson repeatedly harassed her by sitting in her lap while wiggling and grinding, touching her hair and telling her she could be his “work-wife.” Fields, who is married to a former CHP officer, contended that Johnson once pulled her out of her chair and into an an isolated corner of the office, where he tried to kiss her. Following an internal investigation, CHP concluded that Johnson had violated department policies but there was insufficient evidence that supervisors had failed to act or that Fields had been retaliated against. As part of her settlement, she was forced to retire from the agency.

Settlement: $600,000

Date signed: December 2016

 

 

8. Allegation: Raped by a supervisor at work

Where: California Pollution Control Financing Authority, California State Treasurer’s Office

Plaintiff: Unnamed

Background: A former worker at the California Pollution Control Financing Authority, whose name was redacted in the settlement agreement, said she had been the victim of assault, battery and sexual harassment at the agency. In a claim filed in 2014 with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, she said she was raped in October 2013 by a male supervisor while at work. The agency and the state Treasurer’s Office, the umbrella entity, stated that her allegations were false and that she “made them in order to avoid discipline for attendance, performance, and behavioral misconduct, including but not limited to being under the influence of alcohol at work.” As part of her $400,000 settlement, she agreed to resign and never seek re-employment with the agency or any other entity in California state government.

Settlement: $400,000

Date signed: April 2015

Note: The state redacted the name of the worker who was allegedly raped. Those redactions are done with marker. The Bee redacted the name of the supervisor because his accuser is anonymous. Those redactions appear as rectangles.

 

 

9. Allegation: Sexually explicit comments

Where: Department of Developmental Services

Plaintiffs: Yvonne Arcure, Joseph Fessenden

Background: Arcure and Fessenden were police officers at the Porterville Developmental Center, run by the California Department of Developmental Services for severely mentally and physically disabled individuals. According to their federal lawsuit, Arcure was subjected to leering and sexually explicit comments by Officers Douglas Loehner, David Corral and Michael Flores. The lawsuit stated that Loehner touched her breast while Corral “would stare intently at (her) vaginal area and make sexually explicit comments.” It further alleged that Arcure’s locker also was vandalized, with her name and sexually explicit pictures drawn on the bathroom and locker room walls. Fessenden, an acting sergeant who participated in sexual harassment investigations, contended that the three officers, plus Commander Jeff Bradley, harassed him and retaliated against him for his role in investigating such conduct.

Settlement: $400,000

Date signed: April 2015

 

 

10. Allegation: Improper sexual conduct

Where: Department of Developmental Services

Plaintiff: Jennifer Quinonez

Background: Quinonez, an office technician at the department’s Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa, contended in a lawsuit that Commander David Corral repeatedly subjected her to “unwanted, unwelcome, and inappropriate questions, sexual comments, sexual pressure and requests, threats, violence, and sexual contacts” during her application and hiring process. As the center’s “commander,” also known as a supervising special investigator II, Corral allegedly told Quinonez that he was in charge of her hiring process and probation and that “she better keep quiet about his harassment and go along with his improper sexual conduct,” the lawsuit states. As part of her $400,000 settlement agreement, Quinonez was required to never again apply for or accept employment with the department.

Settlement: $400,000

Date signed: August 2017

 

Marjie Lundstrom: 916-321-1055, @MarjieLundstrom

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