The State Worker

‘I will not be silent’: Sexual harassment complaint leads to $950,000 state board settlement

A state board that regulates construction is paying $950,000 to settle a lawsuit from a female employee who said her boss made sexually suggestive comments, touched her inappropriately and then retaliated against her when she rejected his advances.

Santosha Padfield’s lawsuit alleges escalating harassment from manager Steven Skogebo at the Contractors State License Board from 2014 through 2017. Skogebo and the board settled with Padfield in April without admitting any guilt.

The harassment started two months after she transferred to the Valencia office where Skogebo worked, according to a complaint Padfield filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office at the Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the contractors board.

Padfield handed Skogebo a fork in a lunch room after he asked for one.

“Thank you. If you were not married, I would make you my wife,” he told her, according to the complaint.

Padfield, who is African American, said in the complaint that Skogebo talked about her “full” lips, wrote in an email that she was “hot” and told her he would like to see her jumping on a trampoline, among other inappropriate remarks. Later he suggested visiting her hotel room, the complaint says, and in the office said to her, “you know we are alone back here,” prompting her to start working in another location in the office.

He massaged her shoulders at her desk and touched her thigh, she said in the complaint.

After she rebuffed his advances, he criticized her work “without any valid basis” and deprived her of time off, she wrote in another legal document.

Finally, she filed the complaint.

“Though I am aware he feels protected because his pattern of behavior is known and tolerated, I will not be silent any longer,” she said in the EEOC complaint in August 2017.

“I’ve spoken up to Steve in the past and at times have bitten my tongue to avoid unnecessary confrontations, I’ve endured the sexual harassment because I didn’t want to make my work environment even more stressful by confronting Steve or complaining to management and being humiliated when nothing happened,” she said later in the complaint.

Skogebo, reached by phone, did not offer a response to Padfield’s allegations. Neither Padfield nor her attorney responded to interview requests. The Sacramento Bee obtained the settlement agreement through a Public Records Act request.

Padfield left work on a leave of absence, saying that in 17 years of state service she had never experienced the “lack of professionalism” Skogebo displayed.

The EEOC wrote on June 13, 2018 that an investigation had revealed “violations of (Department of Consumer Affairs) policies” and said it would take administrative actions to address the violations, but didn’t specify what actions it would take.

Skogebo gave notice of his retirement June 22, 2018, according to a department spokeswoman.

Padfield filed another complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing and then sued in Los Angeles County Superior Court in August 2018.

Department of Consumer Affairs spokeswoman Veronica Harms said the department could not comment on whether any of Skogebo’s superiors were disciplined.

She said all the Contractors State License Board’s staff are required to take sexual harassment training every two years, and that the department held statewide training last month for all managers and supervisors in enforcement related to “(Equal Employment Opportunity) issues, preventative strategies and reporting protocols.”

The board is strapped for cash despite a 10 percent fee increase in 2017, according to budget documents. It expects to spend $75 million in the 2019-2020 fiscal year but will only collect $67 million in revenue, according to budget figures.

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Wes Venteicher anchors The Bee’s popular State Worker coverage in the newspaper’s Capitol Bureau. He covers taxes, pensions, unions, state spending and California government. A Montana native, he reported on health care and politics in Chicago and Pittsburgh before joining The Bee in 2018.