Opinion

This California leader has history of harassing women at CalPERS. It doesn’t seem to matter

In many respects, Sacramento is one of the epicenters of the #MeToo movement. It was here, in the capital of California, that brave women such as lobbyist Adama Iwu challenged the toxic male culture festering under the state Capitol dome by telling their stories of abuse and harassment at the hands of influential men in state politics.

Christine Pelosi, chair of the state Democratic Women’s Caucus, caused a cultural earthquake in November 2017 by saying there were “rapists in the building” at the state Capitol. Between then and now, Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, state Sen. Tony Mendoza and Assemblymen Matt Dababneh all resigned amid disturbing accusations that they harassed women.

These were big stories that played out as powerful men in media, Hollywood and beyond paid a price for behavior that inspired women to speak out against them. Even the current coach of the Kings has been living under a cloud since a woman from his past accused him in April of sexual assault – an accusation lodged only one week after Luke Walton was introduced by the Kings to the community.

Walton has not spoken publicly since then. Meanwhile, conventional wisdom says that these events have created a new era with zero tolerance for men who abuse women verbally or physically or to make them uncomfortable in the workplace.

Which brings us to a very influential man in California who is not a household name but who is still running to be a leader within a Sacramento-based organization with a broader global reach than the Kings . That is, CalPERS, the largest pension fund in the U.S. and one of the biggest in the world.

Opinion

CalPERS does have a “zero tolerance” policy of workplace harassment and J.J. Jelincic Jr. – who has already been a CalPERS board member and is running again – was found in 2011 to have violated it.

Jelincic, 70, was accused by three different women, all lower level administrative staffers at the time, of leering at them; of making inappropriate comments about them; of making juvenile noises that school boys would make as girls walked by.

He was accused of looking these women up and down, from head to toe, and moving his eyes slowly up their bodies in a way that unnerved them.

He was accused of bursting into a conference room where two women worked, looking them up and down, and then walking out without saying a word. He was accused of making comments about their clothing and appearance.

Jelincic said in an interview this week he was surprised by the ruling and doesn’t agree with the findings. But the State Personnel Board Administrative Law Judge Teri L. Block heard consistent accounts from his accusers.

The judge found the “penalty of a formal reprimand is just and proper.” Here’s what the judge heard:

“It was very deliberate. Very obvious,” one of the woman said in a 2011 State Personnel Board hearing.

“He was making me feel very insignificant. Very demeaned,” she said. “It was very disrespectful. Very uncomfortable and unpleasant. This was in 2010. I was still on probation (as a new employee at CalPERS). I didn’t want to make waves. I didn’t want to be viewed as a trouble maker. I just wanted the behavior to stop.”

At the same 2011 hearing, another woman said: “By December of 2008, it had escalated. I would walk by and he would whisper, ‘Nice shoes.’”

“In August of 2010, I went on vacation and I bought a new dress,” she said. “He looked me up and down again and said: ‘Looking good.’

The woman said how he said the words was disturbing, dropping his voice deeper and emphasizing “Looooking gooood.”

“I didn’t have a goal in mind,” the woman said. “I just wanted the behavior to stop.”

A third woman spoke at the 2011 hearing and said: “He would make this sound (when she walked by him).” She made a sizzling sound, indicating that she was hot.

“I was shocked.” she said. “I was like, ‘Did that really just happen?’”

Later, the woman said she had been in a meeting with one of Jelincic’s other accusers when he said to her: “It’s too bad I wasn’t in that meeting. I would have gotten a great view.”

“I shut down. I didn’t know what to say. I thought, ‘OK. this is just ridiculous.’”

In a ruling dated Aug. 25, 2011, Judge Block found: “There is sufficient evidence that (Jelincic’s) conduct constituted a violation of” several subdivisions of the California government code relating to “discourteous treatment of the public or other employees” and “unlawful discrimination , including harassment” on the basis of sex.

A CalPERS board member at the time, Jelincic was censured. But two years later, in 2013, he was re-elected to the board. He served his four-year term, retired and is now running again for a seat on the board chosen by CalPERS retirees.

In a telephone interview, Jelincic said he “cops to” complimenting the shoes of one of the women. “But the other things you mentioned, I don’t cop to,” he told me.

“I was actually a little surprised” by the 2011 ruling, he said.

So why bring this case now? Because #MeToo has changed the way we talk about harassment. It has created consequences for men in some cases. But the Jelincic case proves that not everything has changed. It has proved that not all guys are willing to “cop to” their moment of reckoning when women accuse them of harassment.

And, in this case, some women at CalPERS still think Jelincic got away with egregious behavior with little more than a slap on the wrist. And now he’s running again for a powerful board of a huge pension fund that puts out reams of propaganda touting the importance of equity and diversity in the workplace.

In June, at the CalPERS and CalSTRS Diversity Forum at the downtown Sheraton, attendees were told: “People are our most important asset.”

Well, I sat down with one of the women harassed by Jelincic and she’s not feeling the love. As we talked about her encounters with Jelincic, she shut down. She had to keep drinking water because talking about it gave her cotton mouth.

She doesn’t feel that the CalPERS’ “zero tolerance” policy on harassment added up to much. And she has wanted to remain anonymous because she doesn’t want to feel any repercussions from going public.

Jelincic said he was censured by CalPERS managers who didn’t appreciate that he was a board member at the same time he was investment officer. He also disagrees with “zero tolerance” policies.

“The problem with zero tolerance policies is that if you make someone uncomfortable, you violate the policy,” he said.

Jelincic has background in union representation, was a leader in what is now known as SEIU Local 1000. He is the front runner in his current race, has bagged the endorsement of major retiree groups. And if he wins , it sure does seem to prove what one of his accusers told me: That he made a mockery of the same “zero tolerance” policy that he disparages.

So maybe things haven’t changed as much as we think. Maybe the retirees who will start getting their ballots in late August and will vote in September, have more to think about than simply investments.

Maybe Jelincic’s candidacy is actually a gut check for an influential Sacramento-based organization that claims to be on the right side of workplace issues but actually isn’t.

Who are CalPERS voters going to vindicate? Jelincic or the women whose stories about him were believed even though that didn’t mean as much as anyone thought?

Marcos Breton writes commentary and opinion columns about the Sacramento region, California and the United States. He’s been a California newspaperman for more than 30 years. He’s a graduate of San Jose State University, a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame and the proud son of Mexican immigrants.
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