July 19, 2024
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Second lawsuit filed against former Ventura County CEO

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A second woman has filed a lawsuit against former Ventura County Executive Officer Mike Powers, alleging she too was sexually harassed by him.

Powers, who retired from the county’s top administrative position in March, has denied any wrongdoing through a statement provided to the Business Times from his lawyer, Jon Light of the Camarillo law firm LightGabler.

The latest lawsuit was filed Feb. 9 in Ventura County Superior Court. It also accuses Powers of retaliating against the plaintiff, a county executive at the time identified only as J.W., said.

According to the suit, she was hired on or around April 1, 2019, as a chief deputy director of strategy and growth for the Ventura County Health Care Agency.

Her direct supervisor was then-agency director William Foley, while Powers was her next supervisor in the county’s chain of command, the suit says.

Foley is named as a defendant too, also accused of retaliating against her.

Throughout J.W.’s employment, “Powers sexually harassed plaintiff by, among other repeated conduct, having inappropriately sent demeaning social messages through repeated comments, actions, and other conduct,” according to the suit.

For example, Powers repeatedly and improperly flirted with her, including at community and work-related social events, the suit alleges. At those events, Powers insisted on sitting close to her, creating a sexualized environment, the suit claims.

Around July 2019, J.W. began being accosted by Foley’s and Powers’ employees, informing her that she was being labeled one of “Mike’s women,” according to the suit.

“The atmosphere was demeaning to plaintiff as a woman and … a devout Catholic,” the suit says.

J.W. then met with Powers to discuss being labeled one of his women, according to the suit.

“I work with the Catholic church, and these rumors are potentially damaging to my personal and professional reputation,” she told Powers, the suit says.

“I’m not comfortable sitting next to you during social events,” she purportedly told him. “I ask that you not flirt with me.”

But after the meeting, “Powers, through statements and actions, sent plaintiff a continued harassing message,” the suit says.

During her employment, J.W. came to believe that Foley had made several false statements and presentations to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, according to the suit.

The statements regarded payments made to a county contractor, the status of the contractor’s duties to the county, and more, the suit contends.

Around July 2019, fearful of complicity, J.W. caused an internal report to be disclosed to Powers’ office, the suit says.

The report supported her belief that Foley’s statements and presentations to the board of supervisors were false, according to the suit.

After J.W.’s disclosure of the report, Foley pledged to “get rid of her” or words to that effect, the suit contends.

Foley began retaliating against her by, among other actions, excluding her from meetings, taking away her work duties, denigrating her reputation and eventually telling her that her position would be eliminated, according to the suit.

In February 2020, Foley “forced plaintiff to resign or else face the public shame of a termination being published in newspapers,” the suit contends.

“With no other choice, plaintiff resigned,” the suit says.

Ventura County and the Ventura County Health Care Agency are also named as defendants.

“We’re proud to represent J.W. in seeking accountability and justice for her,” one of her attorneys, Benjamin Blady, of the Los Angeles law firm Blady Workforce Law Group, told the Business Times.

Powers’ attorney refuted the allegations made in J.W.’s suit and a previous sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Powers in June by another female Ventura County employee.

“As with the prior lawsuit, we completely deny all the allegations against Mike,” Light said in a statement.

“This lawsuit is a belated and frivolous copycat lawsuit, entirely without merit, and not supported by the facts or the law,” he said.

Light said he hopes the public “will not rush to judgment and will wait for the evidence to be heard. We are confident that we will prevail in court.”

Ventura County Counsel Tiffany North declined to comment. Foley, who resigned in March 2021, could not be reached for comment.

The suit seeks a monetary judgment, for among other things, compensatory damages, including lost wages; special damages; general damages for emotional and mental distress; and punitive damages.

The suit also seeks J.W.’s reinstatement to her position with the Ventura County Health Care Agency, and a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from further alleged retaliation.

The suit filed in June by the woman identified only as “Jane Roe,” alleges that Powers, her immediate supervisor, subjected her to sexual and racial harassment and discrimination from 2019 to 2021.

The suit also accuses Powers of retaliating against her by excluding her from meetings and harming her career; threatening to “destroy” her if she reported him; and defaming her by spreading rumors about her and calling her a liar.

Also named as a defendant is Ventura County, which allegedly did nothing to protect her from a hostile work environment, and that it violated the California Family Rights Act by giving her work duties while she was on medical leave.

Her suit seeks damages for “substantial lost earnings” and benefits, emotional distress and other causes; punitive damages; and attorney’s fees.

Powers retired in March after an outside investigation found that the accusations by “Jane Roe” were likely true and the Board of Supervisors placed him on paid administrative leave.

He was succeeded by Sevet Johnson, hired in August.