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Four Female San Joaquin County Public Defender Investigators File Claims for Sexual Harassment and Discrimination After Being Forced Out of Their Jobs
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Four Female San Joaquin County Public Defender Investigators File Claims for Sexual Harassment and Discrimination After Being Forced Out of Their Jobs

Today, Elinor Banks, Candace Gonzales, Edith Villapudua and Guadalupe Zapien-Aguilera filed formal Claims for Damage or Injury against San Joaquin County after suffering sexual discrimination, harassment and retaliation at the hands of their supervisor, Christopher Bruno, and his male cohorts for nearly two years.

The only four female Public Defender investigators left their jobs on May 15, 2017 in protest of an ongoing pattern of discrimination and harassment on the job. The four had repeatedly filed internal complaints yet a focused and continuous pattern of harassment and retaliation persisted and the San Joaquin County Public Defender’s Office failed to take any and all reasonable steps to protect these women.

All four women came to the inevitable conclusion that nothing would change at the San Joaquin County Public Defender’s Office, and that if they remained employed, they would continue to suffer unlawful discrimination, harassment and retaliation. They all left their jobs on May 15, 2017, after informing the Public Defender that they were being constructively terminated.

“The fact that Christopher Bruno attempted to implement a dress code requiring our clients to look “attractive” to him is completely absurd.” Said J. Gary Gwilliam, Esq. of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer, who represent the Claimants.

Each of the claimants were employed as Investigators in the San Joaquin Public Defenders office, assisting attorneys in investigating cases assigned to the Public Defender. They worked successfully in their jobs for many years. In June of 2015, Christopher Bruno was assigned to be their supervisor. Mr. Bruno immediately began to discriminate against the female investigators he supervised. Examples of the discrimination and harassment include:

  • Giving preference to males in hiring decisions;
  • Giving male investigators preferential assignments;
  • Allowing male investigators to leave work early and set their own schedules (but not female investigators);
  • Making numerous sexist and derogatory comments towards his female subordinates;
  • Devising a plan to implement a dress code for female employees, so that they would be considered more “attractive” to him;
  • Requiring investigators be assigned male partners for their “safety;”
  • Refusing to promote female investigators to team lead positions, considering them too “emotional” for the role.

After they filed internal complaints Banks, Gonzales, Villapudua and Zapien-Aguilera, began to be retaliated against by Mr. Bruno, who continued the discriminatory conduct, in addition to making threatening and disparaging comments. Ms. Lyell and Ms. Delph were made aware of this retaliation, and again did nothing to protect their employees.

The Claims filed today are the first step in the legal process to bring justice for these victims of sexual discrimination and harassment.

“It is appalling that in 2017, a government entity such as the Public Defender’s Office would allow discrimination and harassment based on gender to run rampant. These are very serious allegations that should have been taken seriously by the Public Defender and her office once they came to light.

Instead, these brave women were subjected to further mistreatment for daring to come forward and complain until they were finally forced to resign from the hostile work environment.” said, J. Gary Gwilliam, Esq. of Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso Cavalli & Brewer, who represent the Claimants.

San Joaquin County has 45 days to accept or reject the Claim. Claims of this type are usually routinely denied, leaving the Claimants free to bring their action in State Court.

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