LOS ANGELES – A former Marin Housing Authority employee who faced a hostile work environment that included anti-Latino and homophobic comments was fired shortly after he complained to his supervisor, according to a lawsuit filed today in federal court.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Russell Aguilar, who was dismissed from his job as a Maintenance Operations Specialist last year after only two weeks on the job, despite positive work appraisals. The lawsuit says Aguilar suffered workplace discrimination and was fired in retaliation for his complaints, in violation of federal civil rights law and California’s Fair Housing and Employment Act.
“Even In California, with its substantial Latino population, today’s national political atmosphere emboldens some people to make inappropriate comments about Latinos or immigrants,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Such comments are unlawful in the workplace, and employers must take action to prevent them; this case seeks to vindicate that basic longstanding civil rights principle.”
According to the civil complaint, filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Aguilar was hired on Feb. 27, 2018 by Bernadette Stuart, a Marin Housing Authority property manager. On the same day, Aguilar was subjected to anti-Latino remarks during a community meeting at Golden Gate Village, a public housing development in Marin City, the lawsuit alleges.
A day later, after translating for a Spanish-speaking resident of Golden Gate Village who lodged complaints about pest problems, Stuart told Aguilar, “If they come here, from other cultures, Spanish, Latino, whatever, they need to learn the language, if they want to stay!” In subsequent days, Marin Housing Authority maintenance employees used homophobic epithets in one incident and made anti-immigrant remarks in another. Aguilar’s complaints to Stuart about the incidents were rebuffed, according to the lawsuit.
Aguilar was notified of his dismissal just three days after hearing the anti-immigrant remarks from the maintenance worker and complaining to Stuart. According to the lawsuit, a supervisor at Robert Half Staffing Agency, which handles job applications for the housing authority, told Aguilar that Stuart did not think he was “a good fit” because of his complaints to her, even though, according to the staffing agency supervisor, Aguilar’s file “indicated that he received high marks for job performance.”
“Mr. Aguilar did what was he was supposed to do: report workplace discrimination to his supervisor,” MALDEF staff attorney Andres Holguin-Flores said. “But his supervisor dismissed those reports and later fired him for those reports. An employee should be able to inform his or her employer about workplace discrimination and feel confident that the employer will investigate and if necessary remedy the harassment to ensure a safe work space for all employees and community members.”
The civil complaint names Stuart, the Marin Housing Authority and its Board of Commissioners, and Robert Half Staffing Agency as defendants. It asks for a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages.
Read the lawsuit here.