SAN DIEGO (CN) – More than 40 high-profile San Diego Democrats Thursday called on their own party and a local labor union to investigate claims that an area union president has retaliated against and sexually harassed women who work for him.
Democrats sent a letter in support of the investigation into harassment and retaliation allegations against union leader Mickey Kasparian to the executive boards of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135, the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, the San Diego County Democratic Party and the California Democratic Party. The letter was signed by prominent politicians including San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez, former Assemblywoman Lori Saldana and several City Council and school board members from around the county.
The Democrats called for an independent investigation into Kasparian after two former employees, Isabel Vasquez and Sandy Naranjo, filed lawsuits against him this past December on claims of retaliation and sexual harassment. A third woman, Anabel Arauz, has filed a claim with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing but has not yet filed a lawsuit.
In the letter, politicians and other party leaders said union and Democratic leaders have had more than a month to investigate the claims against Kasparian but have “only issued denials of the allegations.”
“After the absence of any action by the leadership of these groups to address these issues, it has now become clear that if we do not insist upon it, the complaints of these women may be dismissed and diminished in a manner that does not allow them any due process in their own workplaces,” the letter states.
Numerous calls and emails to Kasparian and his attorney, Michael Feinberg with Schwartz, Steinsapir, Dohrmann & Sommers in Los Angeles, for comment went unreturned.
Kasparian has denied the allegations against him in multiple media reports.
The letter not only calls for an independent investigation into the allegations against Kasparian, but called on the organizations to “protect current employees” by placing Kasparian on administrative leave while the investigation is conducted.
The leaders point to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing claim filed by Arauz, a current employee of UFCW Local 135, who claims Kasparian retaliated against her when she expressed sympathy for Vasquez and Kasparian questioned her about her boyfriend’s Facebook posts regarding the allegations.
Arauz’s attorney Daniel Gilleon said in a phone interview that Kasparian has retaliated against Arauz since she filed her claim, sending the single mother to work in another union office in Utah and to meetings in Los Angeles in an “effort to force her to quit” and choose between her job and kids.
The Democrats also questioned whether Kasparian is fit to serve as a delegate to the Democratic State Central Committee.
In an emailed statement, San Diego County Democratic Party chair Jessica Hayes said Kasparian is an alternate member of the 170-member San Diego County Democratic Central Committee.
She did not say whether Kasparian would be removed as an alternate delegate, but referenced the outlines in their bylaws which state a member must be removed for cause by a 2/3 vote of the central committee. Reasons for removal include a criminal conviction, chronic alcohol or substance abuse, violations of the code of conduct or “engaging in behavior detrimental to the purpose of the Democratic Party,” among other actions.
Signers also made connections to other high-profile local and national politicians who’ve come under fire for their treatment of women.
Those who signed the letter said following President Donald Trump’s election, “whose hallmarks are his blatant and well-documented sexism,” it’s “more important than ever that we maintain moral clarity regarding issues such as the ones confronting us now.”
The add, “Because of Mr. Kasparian’s standing in the progressive community, our ability to stand up against cultures of discrimination, bullying and harassment is compromised unless we are able to resolutely acknowledge that we hold ourselves to the same standard that we demand from the nation’s president and his supporters.”
Sara Kent, one of the organizers of the letter, said in an interview that Kasparian’s alleged behavior mirrors not only that of the president, but of disgraced San Diego mayor Bob Filner, who was forced to resign after only months on the job when several women came forward accusing him of sexual harassment. The city has paid more than $1 million in settlements to women who worked for Filner and were harassed.
“This doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it affects the whole Democratic Party in San Diego,” Kent said, adding Kasparian has a leadership role in deciding how the union’s political fund will be used in sponsoring Democratic candidates in local elections.
“He has financial and political influence and affects policy for the whole city since he holds the purse strings. It matters to the integrity of the party – women and men are very fired up and a lot of people are getting activated. Our local Democratic party needs to be an example of positive engagement and not harboring someone who mistreats women.”
Lee Burdick, Filner’s former chief of staff, sent a letter to Democratic and union leaders in support of an investigation into the harassment allegations against Kasparian.
Burdick offered three lessons she learned from the Filner debacle including: to believe the women’s allegations unless or until they are proven to be untruthful; follow state law and investigate the allegations to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace; and that doing nothing and waiting for a court or other agency to act will hurt the organizations’ credibility.
“Maintaining the status quo until some other agency brings finality or resolution to the matter is not an acceptable approach, legally or ethically,” Burdick wrote.
“Nobody ever said leadership is easy. I urge you to do what you know is right.”
Kasparian has filed a general denial statement with the court in the Vasquez case. He also filed a countersuit against Naranjo claiming she deleted data from a union-provided laptop, iPhone and iPad before returning the items when she was put on administrative leave.
A motion to dismiss hearing in the Naranjo case is scheduled for April 21.