One Year Ago Today (November 18, 2021)…One of several women who have accused a retired Orange County senior prosecutor of sexual harassment sued the county alleging racial and sexual harassment, and retaliation by the District Attorney’s Office.
The suit, which names the county and former prosecutor Gary LoGalbo as defendants, was filed on behalf of an unnamed woman by attorney Matt Murphy, a retired high-profile prosecutor in the homicide unit of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. It is the first of several lawsuits expected to be filed against LoGalbo and the county.
The woman, who was born in Afghanistan, “worked very hard to earn a coveted position as a line prosecutor in Orange County,” according to the lawsuit, which alleges that when Todd Spitzer was elected district attorney in 2018, he “gave defendant Gary LoGalbo — his close personal friend for over 25 years — preferential treatment and immediately promoted (LoGalbo) into a management position … despite contrary recommendations from Mr. Spitzer’s executive staff. At the time of Mr. LoGalbo’s promotion, Mr. Spitzer knew or should have known Mr. LoGalbo had a history of sexually harassing female employees.”
The lawsuit alleges that LoGalbo “unabashedly acknowledged in a text message, `I am who I am. Todd knew that going in.”’
The District Attorney’s Office issued a statement in response to the suit, saying, “An independent investigation cleared everyone except Mr. LoGalbo and he was terminated by the agency. County Counsel is handling the litigation for the county.”
Murphy responded with this statement: “That is the same spin we heard before. Everyone who has actually read the report knows the DA’s statement is not true and he continues to oppose these women at each and every turn. We have made specific allegations in our lawsuit and look forward to proving each and every one of them.”
County officials did not immediately comment, and LoGalbo could not be immediately reached.
LoGalbo, who announced his retirement a day after being placed on administrative leave Dec. 11, 2020, following allegations of harassment, once “boasted that he was a `walking HR violation’ who was `not going to change,”’ the lawsuit alleges.
According to the suit, Spitzer “admitted that `he knew Gary was a pervert’ during a phone call where he pressured one of (Logalbo’s accusers) not to file a claim against him.”
The lawsuit quotes an investigation by an outside law firm commissioned by the County Counsel’s Office, saying Spitzer told the woman “that he knew Gary was a pervert in his personal life, but did not know he was one in his professional life.”
“As a result of Mr. Spitzer’s choices, plaintiff, and many others under Mr. Spitzer’s charge, were exposed daily to Mr. LoGalbo’s sexual harassment and racist remarks,” the lawsuit alleges.
The woman also alleges in her suit that Spitzer “has embarked on a campaign of retaliation against plaintiff and others for blowing the whistle on his `best’ friend, Mr. LoGalbo, and has subjected plaintiff to conduct that has undermined her job performance and ability for advancement within the OCDA.”
Another woman who also alleges she was a victim of sexual harassment said she submitted complaints to five managers about LoGalbo and was not only concerned that he kept his job, but was also promoted to assistant head of court in the North Justice Center in Fullerton, according to the lawsuit.
In April, a 162-page report prepared by a law firm hired by the county substantiated sexual harassment claims against LoGalbo, but cleared Spitzer of retaliating against one of the whistleblowers.
Members of the Board of Supervisors are “aware of all of the retaliatory actions that plaintiff and others have been subject to since coming forward with their complaints against Mr. LoGalbo,” according to the suit. “However, instead of taking corrective and preventative action, (county officials have) apparently chosen to embrace Mr. LoGalbo and Mr. Spitzer and their undeniable illegal conduct, which has sent a message to plaintiff and to other employees (in the county) that harassment and retaliation, when engaged in by the politically well-connected, will be tolerated by defendant county of Orange.”
The plaintiff wanted a job as a prosecutor in Orange County in part because of its “much professed and self-lauded stand against hate crimes,” according to the suit. She was hired in August 2019 and first assigned to the courthouse in Fullerton. She reviewed cases brought to the office for charges and handled the complaints up through a preliminary hearing.
On her first day, LoGalbo took her to lunch and told her about his close friendship with Spitzer and asked about her family, according to the suit. The woman, who is Muslim, said her father worked with the U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan, prompting LoGalbo to say, “Well, it’s good to know he is not a terrorist,” according to the suit.
“This comment shocked (the woman),” the lawsuit said. “Her patriotic father, filled with pride that his daughter had been hired by a previously esteemed law enforcement agency, had traveled all the way from Afghanistan to see his daughter sworn in as a deputy district attorney for the OCDA.”
A few days later, during a meeting with prosecutors, the group discussed a case involving a deputy public defender who was also Muslim. LoGalbo could not remember his name, so he said, “You know, the terrorist,” the suit alleges.
“This made (the plaintiff) feel very uncomfortable and singled out, especially since (LoGalbo) was now aware of her background and religion, and he had labeled the deputy public defender a `terrorist’ for no apparent reason other than his Islamic name,” the suit alleges.
One of the attorneys asked LoGalbo if he was calling the attorney a terrorist because of his Islamic name or because he helped in the defense of San Bernardino mass shooters Syed Farooq and Tashfeen Malik. LoGalbo said, “I didn’t even know he did that,” the suit alleges. That made the woman “very self-conscious and uncomfortable,” according to the suit.
LoGalbo was promoted to head of the prosecution team at the Fullerton courthouse in December 2019, when he “became even more bold, pervasive and increasingly sexual in nature” with his rhetoric, the suit alleges.
In January 2020, while the woman was walking to her car after work, LoGalbo pulled up in his car and said, “Hey baby, how much do you charge?” the lawsuit alleges.
“He then blew several kisses to her in an exaggerated fashion and drove away,” according to the lawsuit.
The woman also alleges that LoGalbo would “leer” at her and had a “particular interest in (the woman’s) lower body and legs,” and once admonished her following a mistake that, “If you do that again I’ll have to spank you.”
LoGalbo also allegedly called the woman late at night, starting in May 2020, with opening lines such as “Hey, what are you wearing” the suit alleges. The woman said it sounded as if he were drinking.
Ultimately, LoGalbo became more “bold” and frequent with the sexually charged talk, with comments like, “You look beautiful in that dress,” the suit alleges.
The suit also claims that LoGalbo asked the woman for a ride to retrieve his car from a repair shop in mid-September 2020. As she removed some items from the passenger seat, she apologized for the mess, prompting LoGalbo to say, “Why? Are your panties in the car? Because if they are, I’ll wear them on top of my head like a hat,” the suit alleges.
When LoGalbo was promoted again in November 2020 to oversee all misdemeanor cases, the woman went to the union that represents prosecutors and defense attorneys to complain about LoGalbo.
But she told the then-union head that she was “deeply concerned” about retaliation given LoGalbo’s relationship with Spitzer, so she wanted to remain anonymous, the suit states.
The union head, Mena Guirguis, sent an email to Matthew Pettit, the district attorney’s human resources manager, asking if any other complaints had been lodged against LoGalbo. That triggered an investigation.
The lawsuit alleges that Pettit grew concerned that senior management in the District Attorney’s Office was not taking the accusations seriously.
The lawsuit also alleges that when another woman raised concerns about retaliation for cooperating with the internal investigation, Spitzer told the woman’s supervisor that she “had lied in her email when she reported sexual harassment and `needed to be written up.”’
The supervisor told Spitzer she had not lied in her email and that disciplining her was against the law, according to the lawsuit. The supervisor reported what had happened to his boss and human resources.
The county-commissioned legal investigation concluded that Spitzer and another associate who witnessed the exchange were “not credible” in their versions of the meeting. The report concluded that Spitzer could not be found liable for retaliation, however, because he did not follow through with disciplining the woman and granted the probationary employee a permanent post.
The lawsuit alleges that the internal report was issued without warning, and while it did not name the accusers, it was obvious who they were to other employees in the office. The suit contends the release of the report constituted retaliation.
The woman also claims in the suit that Assistant District Attorney Shawn Nelson “declared to at least two executive managers that `Gary doesn’t have any victims,”’ and that he “patted Mr. LoGalbo on the back when he returned from vacation, and the OCDA originally planned to provide Mr. LoGalbo with some sort of training rather than terminate him.”
Janine Madera, president of OC District Attorney Women’s Network, said the organization backs “these women and the witnesses — and all victims and witnesses of sexual harassment and racial discrimination — and encourage them to speak up and report harassment.”
Madera added the organization was “disappointed that the OC Board of Supervisors did not accept the settlement agreed upon by all of the parties and put forward by the county’s own risk assessment team. The settlement would have acknowledged that these women were wronged and allowed them to move on.”
Madera said the “litigation will be difficult not only for these women, who will have to re-live all of this in a public forum, but for the witnesses and for the entire district attorney’s office. The county’s own investigation found that the sexual harassment allegations were sustained, and that derogatory comments motivated by racial and ethnic animus or bias were made and constituted harassment. We sincerely hope that this does not have a chilling effect on future victims of harassment.”