Kamala Harris lost a key aide yesterday, but may have more problems retaining her credibility. Larry Wallace worked for Harris during her time as California’s attorney general as well as in her Senate office as a senior advisor. Between those two jobs, his assistant filed a complaint over sexual harassment and retaliation for Wallace’s actions during the transition. The state of California quietly paid $400,000 to settle the lawsuit, but it didn’t stay quiet permanently. The Sacramento Bee reported it yesterday afternoon:
Larry Wallace, who served as the director of the Division of Law Enforcement under then-Attorney General Harris, was accused by his former executive assistant in December 2016 of “gender harassment” and other demeaning behavior, including frequently asking her to crawl under his desk to change the paper in his printer.
The lawsuit was filed on Dec. 30, 2016, when Harris was still attorney general but preparing to be sworn in as California’s newly elected Democratic senator. It was settled less than five months later, in May 2017, by Xavier Becerra, who was appointed to replace her as attorney general.
Danielle Hartley complained to her supervisor about the harassment and sexism, which allegedly included Wallace forcing her to do personal errands such as getting his car washed. Her colleagues began taunting her over “walking the walk of shame,” making her situation untenable. After she complained, however, it only got worse:
According to the lawsuit, Hartley eventually informed her supervisor, Shannon Patterson, of the harassment and asked for help. “Hartley observed Patterson enter Wallace’s office and met with him behind closed doors,” the lawsuit states, but after that, she began to experience retaliation.
The lawsuit describes that Hartley was “set up to fail,” micro-managed by Patterson, investigated by internal affairs on a “fabricated charge” for which she was never informed of the outcome, and “told she should quit her job and seek employment elsewhere.”
So here we have a classic complaint on sexual harassment and retaliation. The complaint alleges that a boss singled out an employee for demeaning tasks and objectified her with ridiculous demands. His actions humiliated her in front of others, creating an explicitly hostile work environment. When the employee took the appropriate step of notifying her supervisor, it resulted in retaliation.
Shouldn’t the executive in charge of this operation be held accountable? Through her spokesperson, Kamala Harris says … no, not really:
A top aide to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., resigned on Wednesday after a report surfaced of a $400,000 sexual harassment settlement resulting from his time working for Harris at the California Department of Justice in 2016.
Harris’ office said in a statement to NBC News that it was unaware of the settlement. …
“We were unaware of this issue and take accusations of harassment extremely seriously. This evening (Wednesday), Mr. Wallace offered his resignation to the senator and she accepted it,” Adams said.
The state’s top law-enforcement officer was unaware of a lawsuit involving her own office and her transition team to the Senate, which her successor had to settle for $400,000? Seriously? Was Harris that much of an absentee AG, so clueless as to the inner workings of her office that she had no inkling of this behavior or the fact that an employee had filed a harassment-retaliation lawsuit on her watch?
The fact that Harris’ successor Xavier Becerra ended up settling this suit raises even more questions. Becerra must have discussed this with Wallace before reaching the decision to spend so much on a settlement, and Wallace was by that time on Harris’ Senate staff. In fact, we can surmise that Becerra must have had some contact with Wallace to have initially trotted out this defense in the lawsuit before settling for a very large amount of cash:
Becerra, who by then had been appointed to succeed Harris, and two of this deputies said the department took “reasonable steps to prevent and correct workplace harassment” by instituting procedures for harassment and training Hartley on the policy.
Hartley “unreasonably failed to utilize the procedures during the period of time, and after, the alleged harassment or discrimination was occurring,” Becerra wrote. “Had Plaintiff taken reasonable effort to utilize these procedures Plaintiff’s alleged harm, injury or damages would have been avoided, in whole or in part.”
How would they have known to argue this without checking in with Wallace — and Harris? Are we to believe that Xavier Becerra never picked up a phone to discuss this matter with his political ally before making this argument, and then spending an amount equal to the US president’s annual salary to make it go away? Come on, man.
As NBC News points out, Harris has established herself as a leading voice on #MeToo matters and sexual equity in the workplace. Fun fact from Hartley v California — Becerra’s settlement required Hartley to file a non-disclosure agreement to refrain from speaking to the media, the very instrument that #MeToo activists have targeted as protection schemes for the rich and powerful. Who benefited from the NDA in this case? It wasn’t Becerra, who was in Congress during these episodes. It benefited Wallace and Harris, and Becerra’s insistence on it raises all sorts of questions in this instance.
Harris certainly grandstanded as a #MeToo champion during the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, posturing wildly about a vague and unsubstantiated allegation from a teenage party 36 years ago while now professing innocence about what was happening in her own office less than two years ago. It’s clear that Harris doesn’t lead by example on these matters, and it’s difficult to believe that her office is telling the truth now. Why don’t we ask Harris to call for the termination of the NDA and let Hartley speak publicly about just how much Harris knew?
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