Women who have experienced or seen sexual harassment in the Capitol are speaking out, but many fear the consequences of telling their stories. Emily Zentner The Sacramento Bee
Women who have experienced or seen sexual harassment in the Capitol are speaking out, but many fear the consequences of telling their stories. Emily Zentner The Sacramento Bee

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Capitol Alert

Lobbyist alleges law firm fired her for signing ‘We Said Enough’ letter

By Taryn Luna

tluna@sacbee.com

January 03, 2018 12:35 PM

A Sacramento lobbyist filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that a local law firm fired her for signing a letter calling out a culture of pervasive sexual harassment in California politics.

Alicia Lewis, 33, is one of the leaders of the “We Said Enough” movement that kicked off Oct. 17 when she and more than 140 other women lobbyists, legislators, political consultants and public relations professionals penned the letter drawing attention to their collective experiences with harassment.

Now Lewis is suing Wilke, Fleury, Hoffelt, Gould and Barney for wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination or retaliation, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. She’s seeking a jury trial and undisclosed monetary damages for emotional and economic injuries as a result of the experience.

“It’s tragically ironic that this young female professional helped organize a movement where women felt comfortable coming out and speaking about their experiences,” said Micha Star Liberty, an attorney for Lewis. “In response to Ms. Lewis finding her voice and speaking out, she was fired.”

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A spokesperson for the law firm was not immediately available.

The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, says that Lewis disclosed her participation in the letter to her supervisor at the law firm sometime in October and that the supervisor, Shannon Smith-Crowley, questioned the potential “blowback” for Lewis.

Lewis felt concerned about Smith-Crowley’s comment and set up a subsequent meeting with the firm’s human resources director, Kellie Narayan, to discuss her participation in the letter, the lawsuit says. Lewis also told Narayan that she experienced sexual harassment during her time with the firm, according to the suit.

The firm then set up a meeting meeting with Lewis, Smith-Crowley, Narayan and the firm’s managing partner Stephen Marmaduke more than a week after the letter published. During the meeting, they told Lewis she was “required” to disclose details about the sexual harassment and abuse she had endured, the suit says.

The lawsuit says that Lewis felt “intimidated and cornered” into telling her story, it says, and “humiliated and ashamed” after she opened up.

At one point during the conversation, Marmaduke interrupted Lewis and said the firm was firing her anyway, effective immediately, the lawsuit states. Before the meeting, the suit says, Lewis had not received a negative performance review, and neither the firm nor its clients had never complained about her work.

The suit says the firm’s alleged actions are an example of the same behavior women in Sacramento and beyond have been complaining about as part of the “Me Too” movement sweeping the country. Lewis is the first woman to say she lost her job in retaliation for signing the “We Said Enough” letter.

“We as a culture have finally started talking about something that went ignored and undiscussed for years,” Liberty said. “The last thing we want is for employers to take any steps that could be perceived to have a chilling effect on women and men coming forward.”

Since October, two sitting members of the California Assembly have voluntarily resigned after sexual harassment or abuse allegations were made against them.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna