California State Treasurer Fiona Ma had hoped to get charges against her dismissed in a sexual harassment suit that dates back to early 2020, calling the charges "baseless" when they were filed two years ago. But a judge in Sacramento has ruled that Ma will have to stand trial.
The lawsuit was brought by former state employee Judith Blackwell, who had served as executive director of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee until she was fired in January 2021. She filed suit six months later, claiming both that Ma sexually harassed her when the two shared lodgings together in the early pandemic, and that she was wrongfully terminated for refusing Ma's advances.
Blackwell further alleged that she was discriminated against because of her race — she is Black — and because she became disabled after suffering a stroke in September 2020.
As the Chronicle reports, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger ruled today that Ma will need to face a jury in the case — potentially derailing her plans to run for Lieutenant Governor in 2026.
Judge Krueger ruled that there was evidence to support the claims of sexual harassment and discrimination, but dismissed the wrongful termination charge, saying that Ma had presented ample evidence that there was cause to justify Blackwell's firing.
Blackwell's case recounts how she was invited by Ma to get a hotel room, at the state's expense, in the same Sacramento hotel where Ma and her chief of staff were sharing a room in February 2020. Ma would later end up sharing a room with Blackwell, and then she, the chief of staff, and Blackwell shared an Airbnb that spring while continuing to work together.
Blackwell alleged that Ma exposed her bare backside on multiple occasions, and summoned Blackwell to her room while half-dressed three times, climbing into bed with her once. Ma has stated that these were all non-sexual situations.
Judge Krueger noted in his ruling that Ma herself admitted to the actions described, and suggested a jury might see evidence of harassment. He further ruled that a jury may see proof that Ma made comments of a discriminatory nature in the office, and dismissed other Black employees without cause.
The Sacramento Bee did its own investigation into Ma's practices of renting hotel rooms in the capital while she has maintained a home in San Francisco. It found that she "often" shared rooms with employees in order "to save money," but she also reportedly charged the state more for her travels between SF and Sacramento than any other elected official.
Regarding the harassment and discrimination charges, a spokesperson for Ma, Steve Maviglio, said in a comment to the Chronicle,"As the treasurer has said repeatedly, we look forward to having these meritless allegations being dismissed."
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