A female longtime employee of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is suing her employer, alleging she was demoted and subjected to sexist treatment for complaining about how a male subordinate treated her and other women.

Emily Telles’ Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges sex and gender discrimination and retaliation. She seeks unspecified compensatory damages in the suit filed Tuesday.

La Canada Flintridge-based JPL issued a statement calling Telles’ case “without merit.”

“We intend to vigorously challenge the allegations raised by Ms. Telles,” the statement said. “JPL is committed to ensuring a workplace that is free of discrimination and retaliation.”

Telles was hired by JPL in April 1987 as a part-time temporary clerk, left to work for a bank and returned to JPL in November 1989 as a department assistant in the employee compensation, services, and records section the suit states.

Telles rose through the ranks and by 2008 attained a business operations manager position. But starting in 2014, Telles had multiple clashes with her subordinate, Steven Flores, who often was extremely aggressive and demeaning toward her and other women, according to the suit.

“After trying to discreetly address these issues herself to no avail, she went to her managers and human resources to voice her concerns and to let them know she was afraid Mr. Flores might physically harm and attack her,” the suit states.

Telles also reported complaints raised by other women who felt the same way about Flores, according to the suit.

“Shockingly, JPL’s managers and the company’s HR department turned a complete blind eye to Mr. Flores’s misconduct and went out of their way to reduce any discipline imposed on him so he could continue freely moving through the ranks at JPL,” the suit states.

Telles’ manager advised her to withdraw a disciplinary warning against Flores because it might “upset” him and told the plaintiff she should do more to encourage employees like Flores, who the manager believed to be a “strong contributor” to JPL, the suit states.

JPL management decided to give Flores a “pass” and allowed him to continue moving up through the organization because they valued his technical skills and contributions to JPL more than the well-being and safety concerns of JPL’s female employees, the suit alleges.

But when false allegations were made against Telles in 2019 regarding an employee she formerly supervised, she was subjected to a “sham investigation” in which she was not permitted to gather rebuttal evidence and had to take part in an investigation while on a workers’ compensation leave of absence, the suit states.

Telles was demoted from her management position at the end of the investigation on grounds she did not report to human resources that the employee had allegedly engaged in conversations of a sexual nature with several employees, even though she had not supervised him for more than a year and had not received any complaints about him, the suit states.

“Thus, the stark disparity in how Mr. Flores was treated when accused of misconduct … with a just few slaps on the wrist versus how (Telles) was treated when accused of failing to report her former subordinate to human resources with a substantial demotion … demonstrates how and why JPL is sexist and treats men and women differently in violation of California law,” the suit states.

Telles now works as an administrator, but without any managerial responsibilities, according to the suit.

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