Employee in the public defender's office says a supervisor sent her an unwanted, sexually explicit message and later harassed her about her work.
- Case Name: Glenda Mendoza v. County of Orange
- Court and Case Number: Orange County Superior Court / 30-2019-01063389
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, October 31, 2022
- Date Action was Filed: Friday, April 12, 2019
- Type of Case: Employment, Harassment, Whistleblower
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Donald F. Gaffney
Plaintiffs: Glenda Mendoza
Defendants: County of Orange
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $1,237,854
- Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days
- Jury Polls: 12-0
- Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Plaintiff will seek attorneys' fees and costs.
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Law Office of Bijan Darvish, APC by Bijan Darvish, Huntington Beach.
Erlich Law Firm, P.C. by Jason Erlich, Oakland.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Lynberg & Watkins APC by Norman Watkins and Shannon Gustafson, Orange.
Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Mark Falkenhagen, economics.
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
A supervisor in the Orange County Public Defender’s office sent a sexually explicit text/GIF to his female subordinate (plaintiff). He waited 10 minutes for a response and then called, telling her it was meant for a friend and to delete it. (He later claimed during the investigation and at trial that it was meant for his wife.)
In the following months, the supervisor began to intimidate plaintiff with comments like, “You’re not capable of doing the job” and “I’m not an asshole, but it doesn’t mean I can’t be if needed.” About three months after receiving the message, plaintiff reported the supervisor to Human Resources. Instead of hiring a third party to conduct the investigation, the Public Defender’s office conducted the investigation themselves.
In the interview, the supervisor repeatedly stated “I don’t recall” when asked if he sent the message. At one point, the County EEO office said the “investigation would be closed, but not considered thorough” and “this is the first time an agency went against the direction of the EEO office.” The top County Human Resources employees called a meeting with former Public Defender Sharon Petrosino in November 2018. Two days later, Ms. Petrosino sent out an email stating that plaintiff was “not a trustworthy reporter,” to make careful note of what she says, and to have witnesses while talking to her. Ms. Petrosino sent the email to all of plaintiff’s supervisors and cc’d plaintiff on the email.
Plaintiff worked a couple more weeks and then resigned while on her pre-planned vacation.
Plaintiff claimed she was constructively terminated. Plaintiff presented three claims to the jury: hostile work environment harassment, retaliation and whistleblower retaliation. The jury unanimously ruled in her favor on all three claims.
Defendant's Contentions: Defendant contended that the sexually explicit text was not harassment because it was accidentally sent to plaintiff.Also, that when the Public Defender referred to plaintiff as an “untrustworthy reporter,” it was not in reference to her being a reporter of harassment. Instead, the Public Defender was referring to an allegedly inconsistent statement plaintiff made about what her vacation plans were.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $237,854