LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A judge has indicated he is poised to dismiss Arizona State University as a defendant in a lawsuit brought by a former employee of Los Angeles-based Zocalo Public Square -- who alleges she was forced to resign in 2019 from the journalism venture because the founder and former publisher harassed and discriminated against her for being female and gay.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John P. Doyle issued a tentative ruling Thursday in plaintiff Claire Krelitz's lawsuit in agreement with ASU lawyers that the school has sovereign immunity from being sued by state courts outside Arizona.
“Here, ASU -- really, the Arizona Board of Regents -- is an arm of the state of Arizona,'' Doyle wrote. “As such, ASU cannot be sued in this forum.''
Doyle is scheduled to hear arguments later this morning before issuing a final ruling.
Krelitz's allegations against Zocalo founder Gregory Rodriguez, Zocalo Executive Director Moira Shourie and Arizona State University include wrongful termination, harassment, discrimination and various state Labor Code violations. She seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in the suit filed last Dec. 16.
After an ASU investigation into complaints against Rodriguez of mistreatment of employees were found credible, he stepped down in December 2019 from his post with the knowledge enterprise, which is owned by the university.
According to the lawsuit, Rodriguez pledged when he created Zocalo that he was going to foster and host “an intellectual space where no one would be singled out derisively and everyone would be welcome.''
Zocalo grew into a well-regarded civic organization that has partnered with UCLA, the Getty, the Smithsonian and other prominent institutions, according to the suit.
“Unfortunately, Rodriguez flouted the principles on which Zocalo was founded,'' the suit alleges. “Rodriguez used Zocalo to recruit young women he could he harass and prey upon, including (Krelitz).''
Krelitz had both unpaid and paid internships with Zocalo beginning in May 2018, and in May 2019 she was hired to work as a management coordinator at a salary at least 12.5% less than male employees, the suit alleges. She also was not paid overtime or provided uninterrupted meal and rest periods, according to her complaint.
Throughout her 13 months of employment, Krelitz alleges, she was subjected to frequent harassment based on her gender and sexual orientation by Rodriguez, who often made unwelcome and hostile sexist and homophobic remarks. He told her men like big breasts “because they have a maternal complex'' and mockingly referred to Krelitz as a “boy'' because of how she dressed, according to her court papers.
Rodriguez told Krelitz she “looked prettier when she dressed more femininely'' and that her girlfriend could hurt her more than men, the suit alleges. She claims he also asked her to use her sexuality or her sex appeal to get venues to host Zocalo events for free.
Rodriguez referred to women by the terms “bitch'' and “broad'' and commented on the attractiveness of potential female speakers, moderators andjob candidates by requesting that “hot women'' be recruited,'' the suit alleges.
Rodriguez also touched the plaintiff inappropriately by putting his hands on her shoulders while facing her, according to her suit, which alleges his conduct caused Krelitz “significant distress and physical symptoms, including migraine headaches and nausea.''
Her temperamental boss once screamed at Krelitz, lunged at her and put his face near hers, according to the suit, which alleges that another time he lunged across a table and slammed her laptop in a fit of rage.
Rodriguez did not subject male employees to such conduct and “made clear to (Krelitz) that he looked down upon female employees,'' the suit states.
Krelitz suffered “significant distress and physical symptoms, including migraine headaches and nausea'' and was forced to resign in June 2019 because of her hostile work environment, the suit alleges.
Despite finding “overwhelming evidence'' of Rodriguez's inappropriate conduct in the workplace, ASU and Zocalo planned to reward him with a new role in the organization, according to the suit.
The plaintiff alleges his resignation occurred only because of negative publicity in the media and not due to any corrective action taken by the defendants.
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