California Treasurer Fiona Ma sued by former employee for sexual harassment, racial discrimination

Fiona Ma

A former staffer has accused California State Treasurer Fiona Ma of sexual harassment and other crimes, saying that she had to file a lawsuit after attempts to reach the official went unanswered.

The allegations: Judith Blackwell, who served as executive director of the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, is suing Ma for sexual harassment, race and disability discrimination, wrongful termination, and intentional affliction of emotional distress, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

  • Ma appointed Blackwell in September 2019, around the same time she appointed Larry Flood to lead the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee. In a few months, Ma reportedly fired Flood and chose Blackwell to replace him. This left Blackwell juggling two positions at once. Ma promised to compensate her for both roles but only paid her for the first, according to her complaint filed on July 13.
  • As a result, Blackwell allegedly ended up working late nights. She and Ma eventually started eating together, and to save time, Ma invited her to stay at a hotel, along with her chief of staff Genevieve Jopanda. “By the time dinner would end it would be impractical for plaintiff [Blackwell] to drive home and come back early the next day,” the complaint said. “Therefore, Ms. Ma invited plaintiff to stay at the Westin hotel in Sacramento, CA where she would have her own room paid for by Ms. Ma.”
  • Ma allegedly proposed that she and Blackwell share a room, while Jopanda gets her own. It was in this shared space that Ma allegedly exposed her “bare rear end” numerous times, which Blackwell believes were not accidental. The same incident allegedly occurred in May 2020 when the three rented an Airbnb, and a few weeks later, Ma allegedly “climbed into plaintiff’s bed while plaintiff was attempting to sleep in it.” At that moment, Blackwell “pretended to sleep out of fear and confusion,” her complaint said.
  • Blackwell says Ma started treating her differently after she suffered a stroke in September 2020. Ma allegedly made her do tasks that required two people to complete, required her to work past 5 p.m. and “spend all night completing a task for the next day” — all without any assistance. In January 2021, Ma fired Blackwell but did not give a reason for her termination. However, Blackwell, who is Black, was informed and “has good faith belief that the person that replaced her is a less-qualified Caucasian female,” the complaint said.
  • “We tried to resolve this matter informally,” San Francisco attorney Waukeen McCoy, who is representing Blackwell, told the Bay Area Reporter. “There was no response. She never responded to us. We had no choice but to file a lawsuit.”

Ma’s response: Blackwell also claimed that Ma had given her jewelry, paintings, a better parking spot and a guarantee of promotion into deputy treasurer after she fired another Black employee from that position. Ma shot down the accusations in a statement on Monday.

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  • “I am saddened and disappointed by these baseless claims,” Ma said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support I’ve received today. To set the record straight, we have repeatedly refused to respond to the attorney’s attempts to settle. We look forward to bringing the truth to light in court.”
  • Ma has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit, McCoy said. After this period, they will be assigned a case management conference with a judge, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Featured Image via California State Treasurer’s Office

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