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Aide to Sen. Kamala Harris resigns after harassment settlement surfaces

Alexei Koseff, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A longtime top staff member of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris resigned Wednesday after The Sacramento Bee inquired about a $400,000 harassment and retaliation settlement resulting from his time working for Harris at the California Department of Justice.

Larry Wallace, who served as the director of the Division of Law Enforcement under Harris when she was state attorney general, was accused by his former executive assistant in December 2016 of "gender harassment" and other demeaning behavior, including frequently asking her to crawl under his desk to change the paper in his printer.

By the time the lawsuit against the department settled less than five months later, in May 2017, Wallace had transitioned to work for the newly elected senator as a senior adviser in her Sacramento office.

"We were unaware of this issue and take accusations of harassment extremely seriously. This evening, Mr. Wallace offered his resignation to the senator and she accepted it," Harris spokeswoman Lily Adams wrote in an email.

Wallace did not return a call to his office seeking comment.

In her lawsuit against the Department of Justice, Danielle Hartley said she was recruited to be Wallace's assistant during a 2011 restructuring of the Division of Law Enforcement. Wallace, a former Oakland police detective who previously worked under Harris when she was the district attorney of San Francisco, had been appointed director earlier that year.

During an unspecified period, the lawsuit states, "Hartley had concerns she was being harassed and demeaned due to her gender."

According to the lawsuit, Wallace placed his printer on the floor underneath his desk and ordered Hartley to replace the paper or ink on a daily basis. When she asked to move the printer to another location so she would not have to crawl under desk in dresses and skirts, the lawsuit states, Wallace refused. Wallace frequently asked Hartley to put paper in the printer while he was sitting at his desk or in front of other male executives from the division, according to the lawsuit.

Hartley also complained in the lawsuit that Wallace took away her "meaningful tasks" and put her in charge of running personal errands instead, including booking flights for Wallace's children and washing and performing maintenance on his car. When she would return from these assignments, the lawsuit states, "co-workers would make hostile comments to her including, 'Are you walking the walk of shame?'"

According to the lawsuit, Hartley eventually informed her supervisor, Shannon Patterson, of the harassment and asked for help. "Hartley observed Patterson enter Wallace's office and met with him behind closed doors," the lawsuit states, but after that, she began to experience retaliation.

The lawsuit describes that Hartley was "set up to fail," micromanaged by Patterson, investigated by internal affairs on a "fabricated charge" for which she was never informed of the outcome, and "told she should quit her job and seek employment elsewhere."

Patterson did not return a message requesting comment.

Two days before Christmas 2014, the lawsuit states, Hartley was involuntarily transferred to another bureau within the state Department of Justice. She then began to search for a job outside the department, according to the lawsuit, but she was ultimately unsuccessful because the "stress from all of the harassment" took a toll on her physical and mental health.

Twice, the lawsuit states, Hartley took a state exam for a new classification and scored a 95, but she was not considered either time for the promotion.

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Hartley said in the lawsuit that she began suffering from panic attacks and depression, and that in March 2016, she developed a pinched nerve in her arm that required surgery. She had the surgery in September, according to the lawsuit, around which time she also filed a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. When she sued two months later, Hartley was still out on medical leave because the Department of Justice has "chosen to not accommodate her."

Through her attorney, Hartley declined to comment on the case.

In an answer to the lawsuit filed a month later, the department denied "generally and specifically each and every allegation contained in the Complaint."

Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who by then had been appointed to succeed Harris, and two of this deputies said the department took "reasonable steps to prevent and correct workplace harassment" by instituting procedures for harassment and training Harley on the policy.

Hartley "unreasonably failed to utilize the procedures during the period of time, and after, the alleged harassment or discrimination was occurring," Becerra wrote. "Had Plaintiff taken reasonable effort to utilize these procedures Plaintiff's alleged harm, injury or damages would have been avoided, in whole or in part."

But on May 16, 2017, the department settled with Hartley for $400,000. It continued to deny her claims.

As part of the settlement, Hartley resigned her position and agreed not to seek employment with the Department of Justice again. She also agreed to a nondisclosure clause, forbidding her from discussing the settlement amount or alerting the media to the agreement.

Amanda Renteria, who worked as Becerra's chief of operations before mounting a bid for California governor earlier this year, signed off on the settlement.

She said Wednesday that she did not remember the details of the case, which was a holdover from before she arrived at the department in March 2017. She did not know whether Wallace's departure to work on Harris' Senate staff had anything to do with the lawsuit.

"Most folks that were connected to Harris went with Harris," Renteria said.

(c)2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at www.sacbee.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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