Ex-leaders of California Dems fostered culture of booze, sex talk and discrimination, staffers allege in lawsuit

Current and former California Democratic Party staffers have filed a lawsuit against the party and its former chairman, Eric Bauman, alleging a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination.

The suit filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court describes an atmosphere of workplace drinking, inappropriate comments and retaliation by top officials against those who reported allegations of harassment, reports said.

Bauman, who had been engulfed in sexual harassment allegations, stepped down from his post in November in the "best interest" of everyone.

He declined to comment on the lawsuit through his attorney.

"Mr. Bauman has not been served with any lawsuit and has no further comment at this time,” his lawyer Neal Zaslavsky told the Los Angeles Times.

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The three staff members who filed the suit are: Kate Earley, 21, the party’s digital director; Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, 31; and Alton Wang, 24. All were hired in September to help run a voter outreach effort.

Wang was let go in December. He was hired only on a temporary basis, a party spokesperson said.

“There’s no question we all must do more to eliminate harassment in the workplace. Everyone deserves a safe and positive work environment,” acting party Chairwoman Alexandra “Alex” Gallardo-Rooker said in a statement. “Our officers and senior staff are committed to creating a better culture for our staff. As I’ve said before, we must do better and we will.”

Among the allegations against Bauman, the suit claims he asked Rodriguez-Kennedy – who is president of the California Young Democrats -- about his boyfriend and openly speculated about their sex life, and engaged in unwanted touching.

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“I do not know how I can champion these causes if I do not oppose sexual harassment directed at me and other young members in my own party," Rodriguez-Kennedy told the paper.

In a statement provided through their attorney, Wang said: “This behavior is not new. Harassment and abuse of power were tolerated in our Party for such a long time because so many were complicit."

Other allegations include that the party paid for additional insurance coverage to allow alcohol consumption on a campaign bus tour to support Democratic candidates in the state ahead of the midterm elections. The suit said Bauman was drinking heavily as early as 9:30 a.m. the lawsuit said.

As the only woman on the bus tour at one point, Earley said the atmosphere felt unsafe and it “felt like a men’s club," the lawsuit claims.

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“Their conduct demonstrates a disturbing pattern of senior staff being powerless or unwilling to stop inappropriate behavior,” the lawsuit alleges.

After hearing of multiple complaints, Christine Pelosi, daughter of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and chair of the party’s women’s caucus, disinvited Bauman’s bus tour from a San Francisco rally that featured her mother, the Los Angeles Times reported.

As many as 10 party staff members have said Bauman made sexual comments and engaged in unwanted physical contact with them. Pelosi said she told party officials not to have the tour stop in San Francisco and spoke to Democratic officials in an attempt to "navigate an informal solution."

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"I wanted them to be heard," Christine Pelosi said. "I wanted Eric to get help."

Aside from harassment allegations, Bauman once called for a boycott of California's iconic In-N-Out burger chain over Twitter after it donated money to the Republican Party. He retracted the boycott days later.