An employee fired from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul store in San Mateo in November is suing the organization and three of her former superiors for harassment after she complained repeatedly about the untoward treatment of a coworker, according to a lawsuit filed in San Mateo County Superior Court Tuesday.
The plaintiff, Joanna Cardona, is a former assistant manager at the secondhand store on B Street in downtown San Mateo who claims her once boss sexually harassed “an attractive young woman” who worked under their supervision and that when Cardona complained about it, her claims were dismissed.
Cardona alleges that the former boss, Ysidro Alonso, sexually harassed another 26-year-old female employee by touching and fondling her soon after she was hired.
At times Alonso would hide the employee’s cellphone and purse so that she could not leave the store after her shift ended and that Cardona was ordered to keep an eye on the woman “at all times so he would know where she was.”
The woman confided in the plaintiff about Alonso’s behavior who then brought it up to him directly, according to the complaint.
She was told by Alonso that “the matter had been taken care of” but Cardona decided to complain to another superior, Oscar Perez, who told her that he did not believe the allegations, according to the complaint.
The sexual harassment then increased, according to the complaint, and Cardona was told to keep an eye on the female employee “if you value your job.”
She complained again later to Perez who again said that he did not believe the allegations so Cardona went straight to Executive Director Lorraine Moriarty, who told her that Perez was the proper person to lodge complaints with, according to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, the sexual harassment allegedly continued.
“He would touch her front shirt zipper and tell her to show some cleavage to make more sales. He would monitor the store’s security camera so that it focused on (the victim). He harassed her about whether she had a romantic relationship with another employee. He sent a text message to the plaintiff asking her if she was prostituting (the victim) to increase sales,” according to the complaint.
This time, Cardona allegedly showed the “vulgar” text message to Perez who allegedly said he would actually talk to the store manager this time about his behavior.
The harassment allegedly continued, however, so Cardona complained this time to the nonprofit’s board President Lawrence P. Nejasmich.
Nejasmich actually responded in writing in a July 29, 2012 letter thanking her for “doing the right thing” and assuring her that “appropriate action” had been taken regarding her sexual harassment complaint. The harassment allegedly continued, however, so Cardona brought up the matter again to Nejasmich, according to the complaint.
This time, though, Cardona was told to go through the “appropriate chain of command.”
Cardona’s boss Alonso was then transferred to a different store and the new boss, Olga Maria Herrera, “immediately began a campaign of harassment and belittlement toward the plaintiff,” according to the complaint.
Cardona’s job duties were then diminished and when she applied for vacation time, Herrera would approve it “and then at the last minute, reschedule plaintiff’s vacation time,” according to the complaint.
Herrera would also allegedly yell at the plaintiff in public, according to the complaint, and allegedly said, “if you ---- with me, you will see what will happen and that if plaintiff valued here job, she had better play ball.”
In September 2012, Herrera sent Cardona a “written warning and counseling statement” for violating company policy and then in November fired her, according to the complaint.
Herrera also allegedly accused the plaintiff of stealing from the company in front of other store employees.
Cardona is suing the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Alonso, Herrera and Perez and is seeking up to $350,000 in damages for lost wages and benefits and for mental and emotional distress.
By making the complaints about the alleged sexual harassment perpetrated by her boss, Cardona claims she suffered “a pattern of severe on-the-job harassment.”
Cardona is seeking a jury trial and punitive damages as well.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul helps families and individuals facing emergency situations in the county. It feeds the homeless, provides shelter and offers basic survival necessities.
Executive Director Lorraine Moriarty is currently on vacation and could not be reached for comment.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106