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By Randy Economy and Brian Hews
Hews Media Group—Community News has obtained documents via a public records request that implicate Central Basin Municipal Water District Director Robert “Bob” Apodaca as the target of a wide-ranging sexual harassment claim alleging that he had several inappropriate and ongoing sexual harassment instances with a former employee.
HMG-CN received a copy of the formal claim Tuesday night. The claim was from the law firm of Scottile and Baltaxe of Westlake Village on behalf of Sigrid H. Lopez.
Members of the embattled agency’s Board of Directors were given a copy of the claim via certified mail on June 10, 2013.
The harassment started after Lopez sent a proposal June 15, 2012 to then General Manager Art Aguilar to become Central Basin’s Client Relations Manager and was hired for that position July 1, 2012.
At Apodaca’s request, she was assigned to work with him, the assignment being approved by Aguilar.
After a very short time, Lopez claims that Apodaca “engaged in repeated efforts to sexually harass and seduce her over her irate objections.”
The harassment evolved into escalating physical contact, according to Lopez, including unwelcome touching, petting, hugs and kisses after which Lopez again complained to Central Basin Management.
Lopez said nothing was done in response to her complaints.
In the claim, Lopez is alleging that elected members of the Board of Directors had full knowledge that Apodaca had a history of claims made and/or filed against him for improper sexual actions and conduct with subordinates.
Inside sources tell HMG-CN that several sexual harassment lawsuits have been filed against Apodaca, and two have ended in large settlements.
“Despite such knowledge, at Mr. Apodaca’s request, then General Manager Art Aguilar assigned Ms. Lopez to start working with him without any caution or warning that Mr. Apodaca had a history of sexual conduct toward district employees.”
The claim went on to say that the harassment intensified, with Apodaca asking for sexual favors from Lopez in order to keep her job. Ms. Lopez again complained and was subsequently fired.
The law firm also names current Directors James Roybal, Leticia Vasquez, Phil Hawkins and Art Chacon in the complaint letter in addition to David Hill, Interim Chief Operating Office, and former Board Members Ed Vasquez and Rudy Montalvo and Aguilar.
The claim amount is $1 million and ends saying, “failure to address this claim and provide prompt remedy will result in the filing of a civil action in LA Superior Court.”
Two current and one past elected Director with the embattled district blasted Apodaca in interviews on Wednesday.
Director Art Chacon said “As a member agency of Metropolitan Water, our District supports a zero-tolerance policy against this type of activity and I certainly support that personally as well. I would encourage our district to adopt a zero tolerance policy as well.”
In regards to allegations of previous cases and settlements involving Apodaca he said, “as the record states, immediately after President James Roybal and Director Leticia Vasquez were sworn-in earlier this year, a question during public comment was asked regarding previous District settlements pertaining to Director Apodaca, however, President Roybal shut down the inquiry, and demanded it be discussed in closed session. It never was,” Chacon said.
“In regards to whether the District will provide legal counsel for Apodaca’s defense, I would support defending the District’s interest, but not Director Apodaca’s, or any Director for that matter when it comes to allegations of repeated sexual misconduct. The rate payers monies should not be used to defend such behavior,” Chacon urged.
Former Director Rudy Montalvo said, “I am aware of the claim. My colleagues Art Chacon and Edward Vasquez told me that they had observed Apodaca groping a young lady, Kara Medrano, that used to work there. I myself did not see anything. But when that came to me we all agreed to take it to General Manager Art Aguilar.”
“We had a meeting, told Aguilar what happened, Aguilar said I will see what I can do. Next thing I know Medrano had left and money had been paid to her,” Montalvo said.
Director Phil Hawkins said that the situation swirling around Apodaca is “a cancer that we have to cut out of our system before it kills us.”
“I will wait until we complete an internal investigation regarding Apodaca before I determine if he should resign or be removed from office. We have a lot of burdens on us right now here at Central Basin and a lot of bad people need to be removed from this organization in order for us to move forward and to restore confidence from the voters and rate payers,” said Hawkins who is also a former State Assemblyman who represents the greater Cerritos area on the board.
Below is a copy of the letter.
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