Oakland Violence Prevention Workers Accuse Boss of Sexual Harassment and Bullying

The recent revelations of alleged misconduct within the Department of Violence Prevention (DVP) in Oakland, California, have once again brought to light the pervasive issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Two former employees stepped forward with disturbing accounts of their experiences in a hostile work environment rife with harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

The City of Oakland is now facing further legal action after a previous lawsuit brought by the DVP’s former deputy chief. The case was settled in 2022 without admission of liability. 

Former DVP employees Dr. Sarai Crain and Candace Reese Walters sent demand letters to Oakland city officials. A demand letter is a formal notice sent from your employment lawyer to your employer to resolve a dispute before the matter moves to court. The letter contains the facts of your claim, the outcome you are seeking, and other information relevant to the case. If the parties are unable to settle the matter through an agreement, your attorney may file a lawsuit.

In their demand letters, Crain and Walters detailed their struggles with multiple employment law violations within the DVP. The two plaintiffs said that if the city refused to settle their claims, their legal counsel was prepared to file lawsuits for sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation, and unequal pay.

Crain worked as the DVP’s deputy chief of gender-based violence for 18 months after being hired in 2020. She alleged relentless hostility and mistreatment by her former boss, DVP chief Guillermo Cespedes, including bullying and harassing behavior. Additionally, Cespedes was accused of retaliating against employees who spoke up about mistreatment.

According to her demand letter, Crain’s gender discrimination and unequal pay claims arose after she found out that a male coworker in a similar position was paid almost $30,000 more than her for carrying out similar job duties. When she asked Cespedes about the pay disparity, he said that he had no idea “why unequal pay was ‘offensive.’”

Crain was terminated eight days after she reported various allegations of misconduct to the City of Oakland’s employee relations department. She went on to receive a $260,000 settlement after filing a formal complaint against the city in 2022.

That year, the DVP hired Walters as a public information officer following Crain’s complaint. She allegedly started experiencing the same misconduct from her boss immediately. In the demand letter, Walters described several incidents when Cespedes subjected her to lewd and inappropriate remarks in the workplace. She also recounted his inappropriate advances, attempted kissing and frequent text messages outside of work hours.

Walters reported the incidents to city officials and filed a whistleblower complaint. She was fired right before the end of her probationary period, with the DVP claiming that her position was just a “temporary appointment.” Walters, however, believed that she was terminated in retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment and her boss’s behavior. 

Walters’ termination occurred shortly after Cespedes resigned without admitting any guilt. Her firing raised concerns of retaliation for speaking up about workplace misconduct. Walters is awaiting a response from the city regarding her demand for compensation. She is seeking $500,000 in damages for back pay and front pay, emotional distress, and attorney fees.

Despite potential risks to their careers, both Crain and Walters emphasized the need to speak up and advocate for change in organizational workplace culture. They underscored the importance of demanding accountability from DVP leadership and others in positions of power. Employers sometimes get away with misconduct by assuming workers will not say anything about it or by retaliating against those who report their unlawful behavior.

As an employee, reporting workplace misconduct can be difficult, especially if your boss is involved. Additionally, the fear of losing one’s job, being denied a promotion, or experiencing other negative consequences prevents workers from speaking up. However, no one should be forced to put up with unlawful treatment while doing their job.

If you are experiencing sexual harassment or other forms of wrongdoing at work, reach out to an Oakland employment lawyer right away. Erlich Law Firm is dedicated to protecting workers’ rights and holding employers accountable for violating employment laws. We are ready to help you resolve the workplace issues you are facing. Contact us today for a free initial consultation to learn more.

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