Former SF Supervisor and state Assemblymember Fiona Ma, who became California State Treasurer in January 2019, is facing a lawsuit from a former senior employee in the Treasurer's Office claiming sexual harassment and wrongful termination.
Judith Blackwell, who served as executive director of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee until this past January, filed suit last week in Sacramento County, claiming that she was fired after refusing sexual advances by Ma — and also claiming that she was discriminated against for being African American and disabled.
As the Chronicle reports, Ma has denied Blackwell's claims, and says she has for months refused offers from Blackwell's attorney to settle the case.
"Plaintiff felt the work environment to be hostile as she felt her employment was contingent on her accepting Defendant Ma’s sexual advances," writes attorney Waukeen McCoy in the complaint. In addition to sexual harassment and wrongful termination, Blackwell is also suing for race discrimination, disability discrimination, and intentional infliction of emotional distress — Blackwell suffered a stroke in September 2020 that left her unable to work for eight weeks, and then she claims she was fired in January without cause. She further claims that Ma has a "pattern" of ousting senior African American employees and replacing them with Caucasian women.
Ma gave a statement to ABC 7 and other outlets through her spokesperson Bill Ainsworth, saying, "I am saddened and disappointed by these baseless claims. We look forward to bringing the truth to light in court."
The story told in the complaint alleges that Ma and her chief of staff had been living in a Sacramento area hotel, sharing a room up until last year. Blackwell claims that after being given leadership roles on two committees and needing to work late hours, Ma offered in February 2020 to get her a room at the same hotel so that she did not need to commute an hour home. Ma allegedly then began sharing a room with Blackwell, and Blackwell claims that Ma "repeatedly exposed her bare backside" in an effort to seek attention. The three women then began sharing an Airbnb in Sacramento last May, and Blackwell claims that Ma gifted her with jewelry, artwork, and marijuana edibles.
Blackwell further claims that while staying in the Airbnb, Ma climbed into bed with her while she was trying to sleep.
Blackwell lost her job in January 2021 and says she was not given a reason, and this allegedly followed a period in which she was being treated more poorly by Ma, including given extra work and having her parking space taken away.
McCoy says that Ma has 30 days to respond to the complaint, which seeks civil penalties, punitive damages, and attorney's fees.
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