California treasurer Fiona Ma accused of sexually harassing agency director – Daily News

on Jul21
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By Romy Varghese | Bloomberg

California Treasurer Fiona Ma is facing a lawsuit from a former executive director who is accusing her of sexual harassment, discrimination and wrongful termination.

Judith Blackwell, who at one point oversaw two key housing finance agencies, said the treasurer exposed her naked rear end to her many times and gave her gifts such as edible marijuana, according to the suit filed July 13 in state court in Sacramento. Blackwell said Ma fired her without providing any reason in January and also claimed the treasurer had terminated other senior Black employees.

“I am saddened and disappointed by these baseless claims,” Ma said in a statement emailed by a spokesperson Monday. “I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support I’ve received today. To set the record straight, we have repeatedly refused to respond to the attorney’s attempts to settle. We look forward to bringing the truth to light in court.”

As treasurer, Ma oversees the sales of municipal bonds by California, the biggest state issuer. A Democrat, Ma took office in 2019 and has said she wants to run for governor in 2026.

Ma appoints the head of the California Debt Limit Allocation Committee, an under-the-radar agency responsible for allocating billions of dollars in tax-exempt bonds, a limited resource that’s capped by the federal government and is vital for financing affordable housing. In January 2020, she ousted her first executive director after only five months, and she tapped Blackwell to fill that post. Blackwell was already the executive director of another key agency, the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee, a position she assumed in September 2019.

Blackwell said in the complaint that beginning in February 2020, Ma invited her to spend weeknights in a Sacramento hotel room for which the treasurer paid. Ma shared the room and intentionally exposed her backside, according to Blackwell, who said she was “uncomfortable and fearful to comment on Ms. Ma’s lewd behavior.”

In May 2020, Ma began to rent a Sacramento Airbnb instead of a hotel for Blackwell and other employees and continued to display her naked rear end, according to the complaint. On one occasion, Ma climbed into bed with Blackwell, who claims she feigned sleep “out of fear and confusion.”

Ma also gave her jewelery, paintings, and a better parking spot in front of the office, and promised her that she would promote her to deputy treasurer after she fired another Black person from that position, Blackwell said.

In September 2020, Blackwell suffered a stroke. When she returned to work in November, she had lost her parking spot and the deputy treasurer post had been given to someone else, according to the complaint.

Ma gave her work that required two people to complete and didn’t provide her assistance, Blackwell claimed. In January, Blackwell was fired, according to the complaint. The next month, Ma named Nancee Robles, who had previously led another agency under Ma’s purview, as head of the committees. In her lawsuit, Blackwell refers to her replacement as a “less-qualified Caucasian female.”

The Sacramento Bee was first to report on the lawsuit.

The case is Blackwell v. Ma, 34-2021-00304120, Superior Court of the State of California, County of Sacramento (Sacramento).

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