Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto is facing a second federal sexual-harassment case involving one of his longtime female employees, the latest allegations filed in a lawsuit earlier this week in U.S. District Court in Sacramento.
Deputy Robin Gonzalez, 42, claims she has been subjected to “unwanted hugging, kissing, sexual touching and sexual comments” from Prieto during her 11-year career with the Sheriff’s Department, including a request for oral sex in exchange for Gonzalez remaining in her investigations assignment.
“As a result of the harassment, plaintiff’s workplace was permanently altered, becoming increasingly hostile, and resulted in plaintiff suffering damages including emotional distress,” the lawsuit says.
Prieto declined to comment at length about the lawsuit, saying only that “the accusations absolutely, unequivocally are absurd, period.”
He referred questions to Cori Sarno, the Sacramento attorney representing the county in the matter, who characterized the suit as “a bogus attempt to extort money from the county by making false, inflammatory claims against the sheriff.”
“The county has looked into Deputy Gonzalez’s claims by hiring an independent investigator who interviewed quite a few people in the department and found no evidence to support her claims of sexual harassment,” Sarno said.
She added that Prieto regularly hugs friends and colleagues — men and women alike — “as do other people in the public eye every day.”
Gonzalez says in the 13-page lawsuit that the alleged harassment began when she first applied for the deputy’s position in 2002. At that time, Prieto called her a “tall drink of water” and said she needed a “sugar daddy,” the suit claims.
Over the course of her career, Prieto has hugged Gonzalez “in excess of 50 times” and on at least two occasions slid his hand onto Gonzalez’s backside, the deputy alleged. She also claims that Prieto made unwelcome and offensive comments regarding her weight loss.
When Gonzalez was assigned to the investigations division, Prieto allegedly told her that if she gave him oral sex, “you could stay in the investigator position.”
Other deputies became aware of the alleged treatment, with one encouraging Gonzalez to “go take one for the team” so that her fellow deputies could obtain more overtime hours, the lawsuit says.
Though hesitant to report Prieto’s alleged behavior for fear of retaliation, Gonzalez says she eventually went to the county’s human resources director, who responded that “there was little the county could do because Prieto was an elected official,” according to the suit.
Untrue, replied Sarno, who said Prieto denied making a request for sexual favors or any other lewd comment. As to the references to Gonzalez’s weight loss, Sarno said the sheriff “encourages deputies, correctional officers and staff to be physically fit and compliments people who are attempting to improve their health through losing weight as a means of encouragement.”
Gonzalez’s attorney, Johnny L. Griffin III, declined to comment further about the lawsuit’s allegations. The suit seeks unspecified damages for claims of discrimination, sexual harassment and failure to prevent sexual harassment.
Griffin also represents Victoria Zetwick, a longtime corrections sergeant with the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department who filed a similar lawsuit against Prieto and the county last October.
Zetwick claims Prieto harassed her and subjected her to “unwelcome hugs and kisses” over a 14-year period during which her superiors failed to take any action when she complained. Prieto also has denied those allegations.
That lawsuit remains in the discovery and pretrial motion stage, according to Griffin, though Sarno said defense attorneys are preparing a motion to have the case, which she described as “meritless,” dismissed.
Both Zetwick and Gonzalez remain active employees of the Sheriff’s Department, Yolo County spokeswoman Beth Gabor confirmed Thursday.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter at @laurenkeene