Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s reported pick to lead the Department of Health and Human Resources settled a sexual harassment lawsuit involving a “top staffer” to then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris, a purported champion of the #MeToo movement.
New York Times’ White House Correspondent Michael Shear announced Sunday on Twitter that Biden, should he go on to become president, has selected Xavier Becerra, who replaced Harris as California AG following her election to the U.S. Senate in 2016.
SCOOP — Joe Biden will nominate Xavier Becerra, the attorney general in California, to be the next HHS secretary, a victory for the Cong. Hispanic Caucus, which he used to lead, and had pressed for more high-profile Latinos in the cabinet. w/@SherylNYT https://t.co/UyWU9lAdDI
— Michael D. Shear (@shearm) December 6, 2020
But, according to a December 2018 report by the Sacramento Bee, Becerra had a role in settling a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a female staffer two years earlier, in December 2016, by a female staffer serving under Larry Wallace, who was then the director of the Division of Law Enforcement under then-California AG Harris.
According to the suit, Wallace was accused by his former executive assistant, Danielle Hartley, of “gender harassment” as well as demeaning behavior which included regularly asking her to crawl under his desk to change the paper in his office printer, the SacBee reported.
When the suit was filed, Harris was preparing to be sworn-in the following month, January 2017, as a newly-elected U.S. senator. The suit was settled less than five months later by Becerra, who had been appointed to replace Harris.
The suit was settled for $400,000, the paper reported. By the time Becerra handled the case, Wallace had taken a new job working for Harris in her Sacramento office as a senior adviser.
But after the SacBee story was published, Wallace was forced to resign from that position.
Harris’ office claimed to know nothing about the sexual harassment allegations or the settlement.
“We were unaware of this issue and take accusations of harassment extremely seriously. This evening, Mr. Wallace offered his resignation to the senator and she accepted it,” a Harris spokeswoman, Lily Adams, told the SacBee.
Prior, Harris had become one of the faces of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment in the workplace. In 2017, she was among a group of female senators who first called on then-Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to resign following harassment accusations from several women. Harris also introduced a measure in June 2018 banning forced nondisclosure agreements in settlements of sexual harassment.
In her suit, Hartley claimed she was recruited to become an assistant to Wallace in 2011 amid a restructuring of the Division of Law Enforcement. Wallace, who worked as a police detective in Berkeley while Harris was the district attorney for San Francisco, was appointed director of the division earlier that same year, the SacBee reported.
During a period of time that was not specified, the suit says “Harley had concerns she was being harassed and demeaned due to her gender.”
The complaint alleged that Wallace put his printer on the floor underneath his desk and on a daily basis would ask Hartley to replace the paper or ink. She asked to have the printer moved to a different location but Wallace refused the request.
The suit also said that Wallace frequently asked Hartley to put paper in the printer while he was sitting at his desk or in front of other male executives from the division.
The complaint also said that Wallace did away with all of Hartley’s “meaningful tasks” and instead placed her in charge of running his personal errands. That included booking flights for his children and washing and maintaining his vehicle.
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Eventually, Hartley informed her supervisor, Shannon Patterson, of the harassment and sought assistance.
Hartley’s complaint said that Patterson went to Wallace’s office and met with him “behind closed doors,” after which she claims she was “set-up to fail,” micromanaged by Patterson and investigated by internal affairs personnel for a “fabricated charge.” She was never informed of the outcome, the complaint alleges.
Eventually, she was “told she should quit her job and seek employment elsewhere,” the complaint says.
After being involuntarily transferred to another division within the California Department of Justice around Christmastime in 2014, Hartley says she tried to find employment outside the department but wasn’t successful due to “stress from all of the harassment.”
She also began to suffer panic attacks, the complaint said.
In a report, Becerra and two deputies wrote that they attempted to take “reasonable steps to prevent and correct workplace harassment” by implementing procedures regarding harassment and giving Hartley training on the policy.
However, Hartley “unreasonably failed to utilize the procedures during the period of time, and after, the alleged harassment or discrimination was occurring,” Becerra added. “Had Plaintiff taken reasonable effort to utilize these procedures the Plaintiff’s alleged harm, injury or damages would have been avoided, in whole or in part.”
That said, in May 2017, the Justice Department settled with Hartley, though Becerra continued to deny her claims.
The selection of Becerra by Biden was widely panned online.
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