J.J. Jelencic is not Harvey Weinstein.
The 70-year-old candidate for a spot on the board of directors at CalPERS is not accused of raping women who were subordinates to him at the Sacramento-based pension fund. Nor is Jelincic accused of threatening to damage the careers of women who spurned his advances, a la Weinstein – the now-disgraced movie producer accused by several women of rape, harassment and other crimes.
In fact, Jelencic is not even accused of making advances that included explicit propositions of sex, as Weinstein is accused of doing.
What Jelencic did was to make at least three women at CalPERS miserable several years ago. He did this through incessant hectoring and leering, and by aiming juvenile comments and noises in their direction. He kept doing all this until the women began going out of their way to avoid crossing paths with him.
Making women unhappy, uncomfortable and deeply frustrated in the workplace isn’t directly comparable to cases such as Weinstein’s, and it’s important to draw such distinctions. Workplace harassment comes in many forms and effectively rooting it out begins with a respect for the specific details of each case.
The reason Jelencic’s transgressions are important now is that he is seeking a powerful spot on a powerful board of the largest investment fund in the U.S. and one of the biggest in the world. They are important now because even though Jelencic was censured by CalPERS for his actions in 2011, the specifics of his case escaped rigorous public scrutiny.
His case received little more than parenthetical references in the media and he has largely been able to frame his own narrative since then, like many men did before sexual abuse allegations finally caught up with Weinstein in 2017.
The ensuing #MeToo movement that took root after the fall of Weinstein changed the narrative and public perception on the harassment of women. It raised awareness and created the impression of a new day when men simply couldn’t get away with harassing women without a legitimate reckoning.
Jelencic’s candidacy for the CalPERS board thumbs its nose at #MeToo and everything it stands for.
Why? Because Jelencic is neither chastened, nor sorry, nor repentant. In fact, based on the key endorsements he has landed, he is the favorite to win a spot on the CalPERS board elected by state retirees.
Ballots for this election go out to members in a matter of weeks, and Jelencic is heavily supported.
“(Jelencic) has a certain knowledge and wisdom to ask questions that hardly anyone ever asks,” said Al Darby, president of the Retired Public Employees Association of California, which boasts roughly 25,000 members.
“We are supporting the guy best qualified to do the job.”
In an interview, Darby minimized the allegations against Jelencic. I asked him if he attended the hearing where three women spoke out against Jelencic or listened to the recording of the hearing. He said no. He’s taking Jelencic’s word for it.
Isn’t that what always happened before #MeToo? We took the word of the man and minimized or were outright hostile to the concerns of the women. That’s why women are often reluctant to come forward. They fear reprisals, sure. But even worse, they fear being blown off or the suggestions that it was their fault.
I listened to a recording of the Jelencic hearing. The three women didn’t not exhibit any political animus toward Jelencic as he and his supporters suggest. They sounded like three young women who just wanted to do their jobs.
“He would make this sound (when I walked by him),” one woman said at the 2011 hearing. She made a sizzling sound, indicating that she was hot.
“I was shocked.” she said. “I was like, ‘Did that really just happen?’”
“He was making me feel very insignificant. Very demeaned,” another woman 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 troublemaker. I just wanted the behavior to stop.”
One of the women 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.’”
When I spoke with Jelincic last month, he said he “cops to” complimenting the shoes of one of the three women who made accusations of workplace harassment against him.
“But the other things you mentioned, I don’t cop to,” he said.
In other words, he says they are making it up.
According to CalPERS records, Jelencic did not target women at CalPERS who were his equal. (He was a member of the board of directors and he worked in the real estate investment office in the 2009-11 time frame.)
Jelencic picked on three women who were, at the time, administrative assistants. They were women who delivered newspapers to him or kept tabs on office details. They were women who didn’t have a power base and didn’t want any trouble.
An administrative law judge found the women to be credible. Jelencic was censured by CalPERS, a slap on the wrist. He won his election to the board in 2013, served his term, retired, and now he’s running again.
It’s like he’s being grandfathered into a position of prominence in the #MeToo despite his pre-#MeToo persona. State Treasurer Fiona Ma and other CalPERS board members have called on him to step aside, calls that are brushed off by Jelencic, Darby and other supporters.
His presence and actions make a mockery of a CalPERS “zero tolerance” policy on sexual harassment. Like many men before him, Jelencic is stepping around that policy because enough people think he’s valuable enough.
That says that we haven’t come as far as we think we have, “#MeToo or no #MeToo.
It also begs a question of CalPERS and the people who elect its officers: Is this really the best you can do?