By the numbers, the back-to-back sexual harassment cases against the Department of Developmental Services cost California taxpayers $2 million.
In human costs, both sides say, the price was incalculable: Lost jobs, withering shame, even homelessness.
Today, eight months after the last settlement agreement was signed, individuals on both sides tell conflicting stories about what went on inside two facilities for California’s severely mentally disabled.
“Me and my kids paid a very, very high price – too high a price,” said Jennifer Quinonez, a former DDS worker and Orange County mother whose family wound up living in a Jeep outside Walmart before her lawsuit was resolved.
Quinonez sobbed as she recently described the ordeal that she said prompted her to file a 2016 sexual harassment suit against the department and her supervisor, peace officer David L. Corral.
Three years earlier, Corral was one of six DDS employees – most of them peace officers – who were sued for sexual harassment and retaliation at another developmental center in Tulare County.
Corral, who eventually lost his job, calls the allegations in both lawsuits “ridiculous” and untrue.
“These gals can make all these allegations like that, and there is no recourse,” he said, stating that all the charges against his fellow officers were false.
Quinonez' story began in January 2015, when she got a “limited-term” position with the state which, by definition, is temporary.
A divorced mother of three, Quinonez had been desperate for work when she was asked to interview as an office technician at the Fairview Developmental Center in Costa Mesa. Her husband gone, her youngest child diagnosed with cancer, Quinonez said she had struggled for a year to get callbacks, given her limited work experience and weakness in her left hand.
The family, living in an apartment near the facility, was teetering toward homelessness. When the state called about her application, Quinonez said she was thrilled. “Any job I could get, because I was running out of money, was a good job for me,” she said. “I needed the work.”
According to her lawsuit, Corral targeted her from the very beginning – during the job interview process – and hounded and harassed her over the next five months. The lawsuit states that Quinonez felt “unrelenting pressure to have sex” with Corral, who was her supervisor and the commander of the facility’s peace officers.
He kept an inflatable bed in his office, a fact Corral does not deny.
“He controlled everything,” Quinonez said. “He controlled me being hired, he controlled how much money I was going to make. Everything was up to him.
"He just really made it known that getting along with him was the way for me to get my job and keep my job,” she said.
Quinonez’s lawsuit describes a “sexually charged” environment in which other male employees “openly discussed wanting to have sex with female employees.”
Quinonez said she could see officers viewing pornography on work computers. When she complained to a superior about Corral, she said, she found a crude drawing of a penis stuffed in her desk drawer.
“I had to try and smile in front of my kids, but everybody could see something was wrong,” she said, crying. “I felt so lost and helpless. I needed to do whatever I needed to do to take care of my kids.
“And I had to do whatever he said, or he’d make life hell for you there… It was just awful.”
At the time Quinonez was hired at Fairview, the department already was locked in a massive sexual harassment and retaliation case at the Porterville Developmental Center in Tulare County, exposing its peace officers to intense scrutiny.
The unique police force, called the Office of Protective Services, investigates crimes and protects the staff and residents at the state’s three developmental centers. The facilities house individuals needing close monitoring and protection from abuse, including men and women with severe autism, brain trauma, cerebral palsy and other developmental disabilities.
The Porterville allegations described a workplace that was rife with sexual harassment, discrimination and lewd behavior. The 2013 federal lawsuit was filed by five officers – three women and two men. According to their complaint, the atmosphere also was sexually charged, with pornography openly viewed on work computers, nasty pictures left for co-workers and female officers repeatedly referred to as “bitches.”
Corral, who had been promoted from Peace Office I to Peace Officer II while in Porterville, was named as a defendant, along with four other officers and a department administrator. Two female officers complained specifically about Corral.
In the lawsuit, Yvonne Arcure claimed that Corral would “stare intently at (her) vaginal area” and regale her with crude remarks. She also alleged that Corral made it clear that women didn’t belong in law enforcement, and that he had endangered her by failing to respond to her calls for backup.
Another female officer, Kathy Woodside, contended that Corral retaliated against her for reporting another officer’s suggestive behavior with a banana held to his crotch. Efforts to arrange an interview with Arcure and Woodside were unsuccessful.
In a phone interview, Corral – who lives in Tulare and no longer works for the state – repeatedly denied the allegations in both lawsuits, and said that the female officers in Porterville were gaming the system.
“These gals – the women working in the state system – the system has taught them if they don’t like a supervisor, all they have to do is file for sexual harassment,” he said. Corral said he has an attorney, but declined to provide details about his legal options.
State records show that Corral, who started at the Department of Developmental Services in 2001 as a Peace Officer I, kept his job for eight years after his Porterville co-workers first filed formal complaints of discrimination and retaliation in 2007. He was promoted in 2010 – then again in 2014, while motions and legal briefs in the Porterville lawsuit were still being filed.
In January 2014, the department promoted him to Supervising Investigator II and sent him to Fairview as commander, with nearly a 23 percent pay hike.
At the time Corral was sent to Fairview, the state already had settled with two of the female officers in Porterville, Woodside and Lisa Huff, for $600,000.
“We were outraged,” said Petaluma attorney Lawrence King, who represented the five peace officers in the Porterville case. “Rather than take immediate and appropriate action, they had essentially endorsed his conduct.”
Nancy Lungren, spokeswoman for the Department of Developmental Services, told The Bee in an email that the Porterville settlements didn’t involve Corral because a federal judge dismissed him from the suit. In April 2014, after his promotion, a federal judge in Fresno dismissed Corral from the suit because he had filed for bankruptcy before the lawsuit was filed, and the plaintiffs could not collect.
Earlier, the same federal judge ruled that Arcure’s allegations had failed to show that Corral’s behavior was severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment. The judge, however, allowed her to amend her complaint.
Attorney King said the dismissal amounted to little more than a “technicality,” since the conduct of Corral and the other officers continued to be the basis of the claim. King said he considers the case highly unusual, since all five of the Porterville plaintiffs remain in state service today and were not required to resign.
Not so for Jennifer Quinonez. She was fired in June 2015 from her limited-term appointment at the Fairview center. After an internal investigation of her complaints – with Corral placed on administrative leave – his successor determined that she had taken an unapproved medical leave, public records show. She and her attorney, Paul Hundley of Los Angeles, vigorously dispute that, saying she had doctor’s notes and other appropriate documentation of her hospitalization and absences.
Regardless, Quinonez left the job after only about five months, and her worst fears came true. She and her children became homeless, she said, living in her Jeep and showering in Walmart bathrooms. She said she kept her predicament a secret, fearful of losing her kids.
Hundley contends the state exposed Quinonez to harm by promoting Corral, knowing about the serious allegations in Porterville.
“What happened to Ms. Quinonez should never have happened – never,” Hundley said.
For his part, Corral says the fact that Quinonez was terminated speaks volumes about her story.
“It’s all bull crap, it’s all lies,” he said. “It’s just terrible. If she was a victim of sexual harassment, the department never, ever would have fired her. That means she wasn’t a victim.”
He said he had considered Quinonez a friend, just as he was friends “with everybody in the department.” When asked about the inflatable bed, Corral explained that he had stored it in his office closet after moving out of his temporary living arrangement on the facility’s grounds.
He said he believes he was the one who was retaliated against at the Fairview Developmental Center after he reported unrelated staff misconduct. “I didn’t get terminated for what I did,” he said. “I got terminated for what I reported.”
In a deal with the state, he said, he agreed to resign in 2015 and not fight to get his job back. The state settled Quinonez’s case in August 2017 for $400,000, out of which she paid her legal fees. While banning her from re-employment at DDS, the state did agree to change her status to reflect that her limited-term appointment was “cancelled/terminated without fault.”
She bought a small condo, she said, but doesn’t want to disclose its location.
“I’m just starting my life over,” she said.
The state plans to close Fairview and part of the Porterville center by 2021.