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$6.5 Million Spent in California Sexual Harassment Suit

by W. Wisely

The cost to California taxpayers will top $6.57 million in a sexual harassment suit judgment handed down November 30, 1997, against the Department of Corrections. The amount included $2 million in damages, $1.8 million paid to private defense attorneys retained for the seven month trial in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, $1.7 million in fees and expenses to plaintiff attorney Ray Mattison, and $353,955 already awarded to Linda George, a former associate warden.

George took medical retirement in 1997 as the result of 18 months of sexual harassment in 1993-94 while working under California Men's Colony former chief deputy warden Augustine Infante. Infante has since been fired.

"Our clients got reasonably compensated and we've been able to change the way the institution operates," Mattison said. "The prison is one of the biggest employers in the county, and every day we hear from somebody who works there that things are different now, that this kind of thing doesn't go on there anymore."

CDC spokesperson Christine May said the Department is appealing the awards of $1.6 million that Judge Kenneth Andreen, a retired appellate court jurist, awarded two guards. May said the Department will also appeal all the attorneys fees.

Judge Andreen said in his 10 page preliminary opinion that he was "mindful of the costs of this case to the state have been high," but that the guards' lawyers "must be compensated for taking on a challenge that would have deterred most attorneys." He said the lawyers "took major risks and expended several years of their lives to prosecute a case involving a civil rights claim that society was just beginning to recognize."

Andreen found that Infante had touched George's breast in front of a prison Equal Employment Opportunity investigator, grabbed her by an ankle, followed her off prison grounds in a manner "somewhat like stalking" and told her she had "the hottest seat in the prison."

State Senator Ruben Ayala, D-Chino, chairman of the joint legislative committee on prison management, called the San Luis Obispo sexual harassment case reflective of "a terrible situation" in the Department of Corrections. If the awards are upheld on appeal, the total amount will exceed money the agency spent for attorney and monitoring fees in the class action lawsuit challenging brutality and inhumane conditions at the Pelican Bay State Prison.

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