By Royal Calkins
NEW INFO REGARDING REQUIRED SEXUAL HARASSMENT TRAINING FOR SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS
The withholding of taxes from a former deputy’s discrimination settlement in 2020 was standard practice that had nothing to do with hiding the payment from Monterey County officials, according to the county’s top attorney.
The clarification from County Counsel Leslie Girard follows recent public confusion over the county’s settlement with a woman who complained she was racially taunted by others in the Sheriff’s Department after breaking off a relationship with Sheriff Steve Bernal.
In response to inquiries from Voices of Monterey Bay, Girard said, “There was no ‘effort’ to make it look like payroll or otherwise disguise the settlement. The county auditor-controller required all settlements for such claims … to be subject to withholding. The settlement was thus handled through payroll to account for withholding.”
The woman originally told Voices that she had received $10,000, less taxes, but Grant showed that she actually had received $20,000, with taxes deducted. The woman said she has since rechecked her records and agreed that she had received more than she had remembered. She said the check totaled about $14,000.
The woman had said earlier that she believed the settlement was processed through payroll in order to disguise its true nature and prevent county supervisors from learning about it.
The settlement also required the county to provide equal employment opportunity training to the entire command staff of the Sheriff’s Office—35 sergeants, one captain, eight commanders, and eight executive staff members. The training was to include a section on anti-retaliation and could be web-based. Proof of execution and participation was to be provided with EEOC officials in San Jose.
The settlement has become a topic of discussion because of recent publicity about sexual harassment in the Sheriff’s Office. Two other women complained that they had been harassed by then-undersheriff John Mineau and that sheriff’s Capt. John Thornburg had ignored their complaints even though he was obliged to act.
The county’s Office of Civil Rights found her discrimination complaint to be substantiated.
Rather than discipline him for his failure to act, Bernal recently promoted Thornburg to acting undersheriff. That prompted the Board of Supervisors to issue a statement on Tuesday that condemned Bernal’s actions. He responded to the supervisors with an angry denial, saying he would not tolerate sexual harassment in his department.
Soon after the issue became public, sheriff’s Capt. Joe Moses publicly criticized Bernal for having promoted Thornburg. Moses is currently a candidate for sheriff who had Bernal’s support but his criticism of the sheriff caused Bernal to withdraw his endorsement.
The former deputy who was paid the $20,000 had a romantic relationship with Bernal, which is one of the subjects in an ongoing inquiry by the state Fair Political Practices Commission. The complaint by campaign consultant Christian Schneider alleges, among other things, that Bernal failed to properly report the free use of former county Supervisor Butch Lindley’s guest house as a trysting spot.
Schneider has been locked in a defamation lawsuit against current sheriff candidate Moses and others. Schneider claims Moses and other Bernal supporters made false accusations against him and others during Bernal’s re-election campaign four years ago.
On Friday, a Monterey Superior Court judge ruled that defamation proceedings can continue after rejecting an argument by Moses’ lawyers that Schneider and the other plaintiffs — deputy Scott Davis, who was Bernal’s opponent at the time, and sheriff’s union official Dan Mitchell — were not “fully public figures.”
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