On October 22, 2018, Mayra Alvarez, a former CD14 staffer, filed suit against her old boss José Huizar and the City Of Los Angeles, alleging that he created a bizarre, hostile, sexually threatening, and retaliatory work environment. The Times had a good article about it at the time and I published a copy of Alvarez’s complaint as well. And on December 20, 2018 Huizar and the City of Los Angeles both filed their replies to Alvarez’s petition. I finally managed to lay my hands on copies and you can get them here:
And I mean, don’t hesitate to read them, but the sad fact is that all of these petition answers are routine. Basically they all say (a) we didn’t do it but (b) if we did do it no harm was done and (c) if harm was done we’re legally not responsible but (d) if we are responsible the plaintiff brought it all on herself so we don’t owe money. It’s very ritualistic.
But tonight’s other news is not at all ritualistic. In the blinding light generated by Alvarez’s petition it’s easy to forget that she was not the only plaintiff who filed a complaint against Huizar in October. Again, David Zahniser at the Times had an excellent story on the matter, and again I have a copy of the complaint for you. This petition contains many of the same themes as Alvarez’s, but at least some very different factual allegations. Huizar again comes off as a domineering sexual aggressor as well as a petulant, vengeful, possessive, and borderline violent boss. Also newly revealed is the claim that Medina was first hired by Huizar in 2008 because she is the mother of his nephew.
Some of Medina’s allegations are familiar from Alvarez’s complaint, e.g. tension created by Huizar’s multiple affairs with his staffers, his demands for personal services, fundraising improprieties related to Bishop Salesian High, and so on. Indeed, some of the language is copied verbatim between the complaints. However, some of the allegations are quite different. Medina alleges, for instance, that Huizar routinely spent City money on family parties and other events unrelated to City business, which we didn’t see in Alvarez’s complaint.
Also, it seems that prior to August 2017 Huizar’s staffers were allowed to work from home at will, or even skip work without charging the time to vacation or sick leave. She says, though, that at that time Huizar, through his chief of staff Paul Habib, changed the policy to allow him to track the location of his current mistress.1 In particular Habib told Alvarez to quiz the staff on their intended whereabouts every morning and then send him an email telling him where they were going to be.
She also claims that through this new tracking duty and for other reasons she was forced into complicity with Huizar’s mistress’s lies to Habib about her attendance at work and that ultimately Huizar and Habib retaliated against her for complaining about these and similar matters. And, as always, turn the page for selections.
Selected transcriptions from the initial complaint in Medina v. Huizar
1. Plaintiff Pauline Medina, a former City employee and longtime staffer in the office of Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, hereby brings this action pursuant to California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act alleging that her employment was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for: (i) voicing discomfort and complaints about some of Huizar’s and his office’s practices that she believed violated local, state, and federal law; (ii) voicing concerns and complaining about the preferential treatment Huizar was giving to a City staffer with whom he was having an extramarital affair; and (iii) taking sick and disability leave on account of the stress, anxiety, and panic attacks she was suffering as a result.
2. In 2017, as did other of the Councilman’s staffers, Ms. Medina became aware that Huizar was having another affair with one of the women that worked for him in his office. Ms. Medina had worked for Huizar for nearly a decade, so was aware of his previously-admitted affair in 2013 with his former deputy chief of staff and the resulting sexual harassment lawsuit that that deputy filed against the Councilman and the City.
3. Ms. Medina recalled vividly the type of friction and hostility that Huizar’s prior affair caused in the office and could see that the Councilman’s new relationship was triggering the same type of issues. Ms. Medina, as did other of the Councilman’s staffers, believed that Huizar’s mistress was receiving more favorable treatment with respect to assignments and more leniency with respect to deadlines and attendance. So, in October 2017, Ms. Medina began speaking out about it and complained to Huizar’s chief of staff.
4. Ms. Medina also at that time began complaining about certain practices employed by the Councilman’s office that she believed violated local, state, and federal law, such as funneling City money to Huizar’s high school alma mater, Salesian High School, and secretly using City funds to pay for Huizar’s personal expenses.
5. Ms. Medina also began complaining at that time about the lack of boundaries between she and other staffers’ responsibility for having to assist Huizar with his work agenda as opposed to his personal life. Huizar frequently demanded that Ms. Medina and other staffers pick up his dry-cleaning and contact lens refills, take his car to get washed, drop off and pick up his children from school, and even go to his house to move his wife’s car from one side of the street to the other to avoid getting a street-sweeping ticket.
6. Ms. Medina had no choice but to speak up—both on account of her own morality and for her own sanity. Ms. Medina was the Councilmember’s office manager and lead administrator, so was often the sounding board for other staffers who came to her with their own frustrations about the office’s practices and Huizar’s mistress’ preferential treatment. This caused Ms. Medina extreme anxiety, which manifested in the form of debilitating migraines, stress-induced muscle pains, and panic attacks.
7. Huizar and his chief of staff retaliated against Ms. Medina for speaking out and undertook a campaign to push her out of the office. Among other things, Ms. Medina was stripped of certain duties and responsibilities she had long held in the office, stripped of access to Huizar’s calendar, subjected to unreasonable and unjustified criticism of her work, and subjected to unsympathetic criticism for taking time off for health reasons.
8. Huizar and his chief of staff even went so far as to report Ms. Medina to the City’s Personnel Department in order to instigate an audit of her attendance given that she had been taking days off on account of the migraines and anxiety she had been suffering as direct result of their retaliatory conduct. According to an investigator retained by the City Attorney’s Office to examine the matter, Huizar and his chief of staff approached the Personnel Department about Medina (but not any other staffer) because the Councilman had suddenly become “curious” about Ms. Medina’s sick leave.
9. Huizar’s instigation of the attendance audit was pretextual—that is, retaliation for Ms. Medina’s complaints about the office’s practices and the preferential treatment given to Huizar’s mistress. It was a show of force. Huizar wanted Ms. Medina to know the type of power and influence he could wield over various City departments and resources and that she would be powerless to challenge him.
10. Ultimately, Ms. Medina’s primary care physician recommended that she take a medical leave of absence from work, which she did in beginning February 2018. When Ms. Medina returned to work in May 2018, however, the retaliatory campaign to push her out of the office resumed.
11. On her first day back in the office, Huizar’s chief of staff met with Ms. Medina and “suggested” that she might be happier working in another City department. Ms. Medina knew exactly what the chief of staff was trying to convey—that he and Huizar were no longer happy with her and wanted her gone.
12. Ms. Medina spoke up again. She told Huizar’s chief of staff that she was not going anywhere and that she knew they were trying to push her out for voicing her own and other staffers’ complaints about the office. Huizar’s chief of staff was infuriated. So, as immediate reprisal, he ordered Ms. Medina as her first task on her first day back at work to clean out the office’s three storage rooms—a task normally delegated to student interns.
13. Ms. Medina was humiliated. She was the office manager and lead administrator but, as punishment for speaking out, was made to clear out heavy boxes, tables, chairs, and other junk from the office’s storerooms as if someone was cleaning out their garage. In the course of doing so, Ms. Medina strained her back and suffered a panic attack.
14. Ms. Medina took another medical leave of absence as a result, but given what Huizar and his chief of staff had made clear would be her fate if she returned to the office, Ms. Medina had no choice but to resign her City employment in June 2018.
15. This lawsuit seeks to redress the financial and emotional harm Ms. Medina suffered, and continues to suffer, as a result of the discrimination and retaliation she endured while employed with Huizar, as well as on account of her constructive termination.
34. Pauline Medina worked for and was loyal to Councilman Jose Huizar for nearly a decade. She started as a City employee as a receptionist in one of his field offices in August 2008, but was ultimately transferred to the Councilman’s main City Hall office.
35. Ms. Medina has a familial relationship with Huizar, which is how she initially got the position in 2008. Ms. Medina has a young son with one of Huizar’s brothers. Still, Ms. Medina was never looking for a handout, just an opportunity to help provide for her family and thrive professionally.
36. And that is what she did. So, even when Ms. Medina’s relationship with Huizar’s brother came to an end in 2012, she continued to work in the Councilman’s office and continued to excel in her role there. In fact, that same year (2012) Huizar made Ms. Medina his office manager and lead administrator.
37. In that capacity, Ms. Medina was generally responsible for all of the
administrative inner workings of the office, including the responsibility for processing payroll, time and attendance, event logistics, accounts payable, as well as processing monies allocated to the office from the City’s General Purpose Fund. She also supervised the receptionist staff.
38. Huizar was challenging to work for, to say the least. Given the nature of the job and local politics, Ms. Medina certainly expected Huizar to be demanding; but being rude and unthanking in his demands was the rule with Huizar rather than the exception. And he would often chastise and verbally abuse Ms. Medina and other staffers for mistakes and oversights that were of his own making.
39. The job was also demanding in that Huizar saw no boundary between his staffers’ responsibility for assisting him with his work agenda as opposed to his personal life. Huizar frequently demanded that Ms. Medina and other staffers pick up his dry-cleaning and contact lens refills, take his car to get washed, drop off and pick up his children from school, even go to his house to move his wife’s car from one side of the street to the other to avoid getting a street sweeping ticket.
40. Nonetheless, Ms. Medina complied with Huizar’s personal requests while also balancing the demands of her job. Ms. Medina never received a failing performance rating during her tenure as Huizar’s office manager and lead administrator nor at any other time during her employment with the City.
41. Still, Ms. Medina endured a tremendous amount of angst and stress on account of her employment with Huizar. For instance, Ms. Medina was interviewed by the City Attorney’s Office as part of a 2013 sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed against Huizar and the City by Francine Godoy, the Councilmember’s former deputy chief of staff. Ms. Medina had never been involved in a lawsuit before and was unsettled by the experience. She was also unsettled by the lobbying Huizar seemed to be doing amongst those staffers that he knew would be interviewed or deposed in a not-so-subtle effort to persuade them to give testimony favorable to him and not Godoy. Moreover, Ms. Medina was personally disappointed in Huizar because she had spent a considerable amount of time with his wife and children while Ms. Medina was in a relationship with Huizar’s brother.
42. Ms. Medina was also uncomfortable with certain practices employed by the Councilman’s office that she believed violated local, state, and federal law. For instance. Ms. Medina was uncomfortable with the requirement that she and other Huizar staffers engage in fundraising activities for his high school alma mater, Salesian High School, while on City time. She was also uncomfortable with the direction she got, given her direct responsibility for processing monies allocated to the office from the City’s General Purpose Fund, to find ways to funnel money to the school.
43. Ms. Medina was also uncomfortable syphoning money from the City’s General Purpose Fund to pay for Huizar’s personal expenses, like family gatherings and other events that were wholly unrelated to City business. Similarly, Ms. Medina was uncomfortable with the direction she got to utilize City funds to pay for prohibited activities, like golf tournament sponsorships and other gala events. Ms. Medina was often directed to make a “donation” to a non-profit organization, albeit with the unspoken agreement that the organization utilize part of the money it received to make a payment, by proxy, to wherever the Councilman’s office wanted.
44. Ms. Medina had at the time a reasonable and good faith belief that the above-described activities constituted violations of City ethics rules and laws (Los Angeles Municipal Code Chapter IV, Articles 9.5 and 9.7), state political activity laws (Cal Gov. Code §§ 3203, 3209, 19990), as well as federal political activity law (5 U.S.C. § 7321 et seq.).
45. In or about the Spring of 2017, Ms. Medina became aware that Huizar was engaged in another extramarital affair with a City staffer. This caused friction in the office because many staffers, Ms. Medina among them, believed that Huizar’s mistress received more favorable treatment from him with respect to assignments and more leniency with respect to deadlines and attendance.
46. During the year 2017, Huizar was engaged in a sexual relationship with one of his City staffers.
47. During the year 2018, Huizar was engaged in a sexual relationship with one of his City staffers.
48. As long as Ms. Medina had been in the office and directly responsible for processing time and attendance, the custom and practice—as well as the direction she received directly from Huizar and his chief of staff, Paul Habib—was to be lax with respect to deducting staffers’ leave when they were out of the office. For years, it had been common practice for Huizar and Habib to direct Ms. Medina to not formally mark a staffer as out on vacation when they really were or as out on sick leave when they really were. Given the demands of the job and staffers’ responsibilities for attending various events outside of normal working hours on nights and weekends, the direction Huizar and Habib routinely gave Ms. Medina was to not formally mark staffers as on leave as a matter of “goodwill.”
49. So, for instance, if a staffer was getting married, Ms. Medina would be directed to not formally mark the days the staffer took off for their wedding and honeymoon.
Or, for example, if a staffer experienced a death in the family, Ms. Medina would be directed to overlook the time taken off by that staffer for bereavement. In each instance, however, Ms. Medina would consult Huizar or Habib, who would then dictate to her when to formally deduct a particular staffer’s leave or not.
50. However, that long-held practice changed when Huizar began his affair with another of his City staffers and wanted to know her particular whereabouts. Beginning in or about August 2017, the direction Ms. Medina received from Habib was that Huizar wanted her to send out an email each morning for his review setting out which staffers would be late or otherwise out of the office that particular day.
51. Ms. Medina could see right through the request and see that its true purpose was so that Huizar would know the whereabouts of his mistress. This was particularly evident because virtually every staffer had the ability to log on to their computers and phones remotely to keep up with their emails and other responsibilities regardless of their physical absence from the office. And if a staffer was not responsive to the Councilmember’s emails or texts—regardless of whether they were on leave or not—Huizar would repeatedly email and text them until they responded. Huizar expected his staff to be available to him essentially 24/7.
52. The new “daily email” requirement became a significant stressor for Ms. Medina because she was forced to wrangle excuses out of staffers for why they would be late or otherwise out for the day. Ms. Medina had become the sounding board for other staffers who came to her with their own frustrations about the office’s practices and Huizar’s mistress’ preferential treatment, particularly with respect to the new attendance policy. This caused Ms. Medina extreme anxiety, which manifested in the form of debilitating migraines, stress-induced muscle pains, and panic attacks.
53. The new attendance policy was particularly stressful for Ms. Medina because Huizar’s mistress would often turn to her for advice when she had no excuse for being late or absent, but wanted Ms. Medina’s help covering for it. Oftentimes, the mistress would get caught in the lie, and yet because of her standing with Huizar, Ms. Medina would be blamed for the entire episode.
54. For instance, in October 2017, Huizar’s mistress arrived late to work one day and told Habib, falsely, that she had been at a constituent meeting. When Habib discovered there had been no such meeting, he sat down with her to find out why she was not being truthful. Yet rather than take responsibility for her own conduct, the mistress told Habib that Ms. Medina advised her to make up the meeting as a cover for being late. Ms. Medina had certainly not given her that advice but, given the mistress’ standing with Huizar, Habib took her side rather than Ms. Medina’s and accused Ms. Medina of being deceptive.
55. Ms. Medina was incredulous. She was not the one who was late, not the one who lied about it, and yet she was somehow being blamed for it. So, Ms. Medina raised her concerns and complaints with Habib again, namely, that: (i) Huizar’s mistress was receiving preferential treatment with respect to attendance and assignments; (ii) Ms. Medina was uncomfortable funneling money out of the City’s General Purpose Fund; and (iii) Ms. Medina was suffering from migraines as a result of the stress.
56. Thereafter, Huizar and Habib retaliated against Ms. Medina for speaking out and undertook a campaign to push her out of the office. Among other things, Ms. Medina was stripped of certain duties and responsibilities she had long held in the office, stripped of access to Huizar’s calendar, subjected to unreasonable and unjustified criticism of her work, and subjected to unsympathetic criticism for taking time off for health reasons.
57. Huizar and Habib even went so far as to report Ms. Medina to the City’s Personnel Department in order to instigate an audit of her attendance given that she had been taking days off on account of the migraines she had been suffering as direct result of their retaliatory conduct.
58. Huizar’s instigation of the audit was confirmed by a firm hired by the City Attorney’s Office to investigate the matter. During an interview with a representative from the City’s Personnel Department, a Personnel representative who had been personally involved told the investigator that, in February 2018, Habib approached their department and specifically requested Ms. Medina’s time and attendance records. According to the Personnel employee, Habib explained that Councilman Huizar had suddenly become “curious” about Ms. Medina’s absences and wanted a report of the leave she had taken.
59. Of course, Habib did not ask the Personnel Department for a report on any other staffer’s leave—only Ms. Medina’s.
60. According to the Personnel Department, Habib then came back to them and advised that he had cross-referenced Ms. Medina’s leave report with his own email records and that they did not match up.
61. Thereafter, on February 28, 2018, Habib asked the Personnel employee to accompany him to a meeting with Ms. Medina so that he could confront her with his “evidence” and place her on a more highly-scrutinized leave program whereby Ms. Medina would have to present a doctor’s note for every single sick day she took henceforward.
62. During the meeting, Habib told Ms. Medina that the recommendation was that she be fired for her purported attendance discrepancies, but that “the Councilman wanted to give her another opportunity” because he is “very generous.”
63. Ms. Medina was astounded by the accusations Habib was making since, as explained above, the attendance policy in the Councilman’s office had been lax for years—and had been so at Habib’s very direction. Moreover, Ms. Medina had always consulted Habib about staffers’ time off and he was the one who would dictate to Ms. Medina when she should formally mark the leave down or not. Ms. Medina responded during the meeting that other staffers—including Habib himself—routinely failed to submit leave requests for the days they took off and the instances for which they were late, but Habib rationalized that other staffers were merely “telecommuting” with his permission due to undefined “personal issues.”
64. Unsurprisingly, the City’s investigator did not interview any of Huizar’s other staffers with respect to the office’s attendance practices. The investigator relied only upon Habib’s (false and self-serving) representations.
65. Ms. Medina was also astounded by the accusations Habib was making because she understood very well the underlying subtext. Huizar and Habib were sending Ms. Medina a message: they wanted Ms. Medina to know the type of power and influence they could wield over various City departments and resources and that she would be powerless to challenge him.
66. The instigation of the attendance audit was pretextual. It was in retaliation for Ms. Medina’s complaints about the office’s practices and the preferential treatment given to Huizar’s mistress.
67. Ms. Medina left the meeting so overwhelmed that she had a panic attack.
Her primary care physician recommended that she take a medical leave of absence from work, which she did. Ms. Medina took leave from on or about February 28 to May 1, 2018.
68. When Ms. Medina returned to work, however, the retaliatory campaign to push her out of the office resumed. According to the City Attorney’s Office’s investigator, Habib did not think that Ms. Medina would return to work; he thought he had succeeded in conveying the power he and Huizar could lord over her and that Ms. Medina would just quit.
69. Therefore, on Ms. Medina’s first day back in the office, Habib summoned her to a meeting with he and Rick Coca. Huizar’s director of communications. During that meeting, acting at Huizar’s direction, Habib “suggested” to Ms. Medina that she might be happier working in another City department and offered to help her transition out of the Councilman’s office.
70. But Ms. Medina knew exactly what he was trying to convey—that he and Huizar were no longer happy with her and wanted Ms. Medina gone because of her complaints. Ms. Medina knew too much and was no longer going to stay quiet about it, so she had to go.
71. Undeterred, Ms. Medina spoke up again. She told Habib that she was not going anywhere and that she knew they were trying to push her out for voicing her own and other staffers’ complaints about the office.
72. Habib was infuriated. So, as immediate reprisal, he ordered Ms. Medina as her first task on her first day back at work to clean out the office’s three storage rooms, one of which was located down in City Hall’s underground parking lot.
73. Ms. Medina was humiliated. It was punishment. Instead of the going to her desk to resume her normal office duties, she had been sent to the office’s storerooms in a dress to clear out heavy boxes, tables, chairs, and other junk as if someone was cleaning out their garage. In the course of doing so, Ms. Medina strained her back and suffered a panic attack.
74. As a result, Ms. Medina went to urgent care where her primary care physician recommended that take another medical leave of absence, which she did.
75. Given what Huizar and Habib had made clear would be her fate if she returned to the office, Ms. Medina had no choice but to resign from her City employment, which she did on June 20, 2018.
76. As a result of being retaliated against and stripped of any meaningful function at the office, Ms. Medina was constructively terminated. Huizar and Habib intentionally created and knowingly permitted working conditions that were so intolerable that any reasonable and comparably-situated employee would be compelled to resign. Ms. Medina felt that she had no other option but to resign rather than endure the ridicule, shame, and uselessness associated with her diminished position in the office.
Image of José Huizar is ߣ MichaelKohlhaas.Org and is skipped up outta this lil José right here.