A woman who co-authored last year’s “We Said Enough” letter, which spoke out against sexual harassment at the state Capitol, says she was fired by a Sacramento law firm because of her activism.
Alicia Lewis worked as a legislative advocate with Wilke, Fleury, Hoffelt, Gould & Birney LLP for a little less than a year. On Oct. 25 — eight days after the letter was released — she was let go.
A lawsuit filed this morning in Sacramento Superior Court states that Lewis alerted the law firm that she had signed the letter. Her attorney, Micha Liberty, says Lewis also disclosed to her employer that she had been sexually harassed as an employee of the firm, and also while she worked at a previous company.
Liberty says the initial response from Lewis’ immediate boss was not of support, but instead to ask, “‘What kind of blow-back might come from corporate?’”
Liberty says Lewis was soon called into a meeting with the firm’s managing partner, Stephen K. Marmaduke, and its executive director, Kellie Narayan. Lewis claims they wanted to know about her harassment experiences.
“She was intimidated and scared and emotional that she had to reveal all of those details, and that her employer was demanding them,” Liberty says of the meeting.
The attorney added that Lewis tried to steer conversation to problem-solving. But that’s when, Liberty says, “Marmaduke blurted out, ‘We don’t have to move forward with next steps, because we are letting you go effective immediately.’”
Lewis was then escorted to her office, where she discovered her email had already been disabled, according to her lawyer. She was provided a cardboard box and was escorted from the building.
Marmaduke and the firm are named as the defendants in this suit.
“It’s unfathomable that a long-standing law firm would engage in behavior that is so clearly retaliatory,” says Liberty, who added that Lewis is protected by several state laws that prevent retribution for a political statement.
“It’s in the civil code. It’s in the labor code. An employer can’t fire someone for doing those things.”
The suit also alleges that Wilke Fleury failed to prevent discrimination or retaliation under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, and claims negligent infliction of emotional distress. “The firm didn’t do anything to protect her from being treated differently because she’s a woman, or — more importantly — to prevent retaliation because she participated in the letter,” Liberty says.
Responses to the “We Said Enough” and #MeToo movements have varied from extremely supportive to anonymous mud-slinging. Some member of the state Legislature have said they plan to discuss the culture of sexual misconduct and harassment this session, which begins on Jan. 3.
This is the first public accusation of this type of retribution against a member of the “We Said Enough” movement since more than 140 women signed the letter.
Wilke Fleury's Ronald R. Lamb responded to a request for comment with an emailed statement.
It reads, "Our firm fully supports the movement to address sexual harassment and adamantly denies any suggestion we have mistreated any employee for his or her involvement in such movement."