Disaster Relief Group Argues Woman Must Arbitrate Harassment Claims

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A woman who claims a fire department battalion chief sexually harassed her and other young women working for the disaster relief charity Community Organized Relief Effort during coronavirus testing in 2020 must have an arbitrator, not a jury, decide the portion of her suit against the organization, CORE attorneys argue in new court papers.

Sarena Serrano's Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit was filed Sept. 8 against CORE; its CEO, Ann Young Lee; the city of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Jaime Lesinski, alleging sexual harassment, gender violence, sexual battery, aiding and abetting sexual harassment, retaliation, failure to prevent harassment and wrongful termination.

Lee's co-founder of CORE is actor Sean Penn.

In court papers filed Wednesday, CORE lawyers state that Serrano was hired June 16, 2020, and a week later submitted by email an electronically signed copy of her employment contract in which she agreed that all disputes would be subject to arbitration.

“Plaintiff's claims against CORE arise exclusively from her employment and termination of her employment and thereby are covered under the parties' arbitration agreement,'' the CORE attorneys state in their court papers. “The strong policies under federal and California law require plaintiff to arbitrate her claims.''

A hearing on CORE's motion to compel arbitration of Serrano's claims against the organization and Lee is scheduled Jan. 19 before Judge Dennis J. Landin. Although the motion does not pertain to the parts of Serrano's case against the other defendants, CORE lawyers are asking that the entire case be put on hold pending the outcome of the arbitration.

CORE provided coronavirus testing at Dodger Stadium from June through October 2020, the suit states. Lesinski worked at the site from June through August 2020 and oversaw, managed and directed the operations in coordination with Lee, according to the suit.

Serrano and other young women who daily worked with Lesinki were touched by him on their lower backs and buttocks without consent, subjected to inappropriate sexual comments about their sexual organs and forced to hear sexually demeaning comments about them, the suit states.

Lesinski once implied Serrano was a prostitute by saying, “Looks like you were working hard last night,'' the suit states.

Lee and other CORE managers knew or should have known about Lesinski's allegedly inappropriate behavior by June 2020, the suit alleges.

Serrano asked her supervisor for a paid day off after having a mental breakdown upon learning that Lee was allegedly aware of Lesinski's conduct for months and had done nothing to correct it, but she was told she could only have unpaid time off, the suit states.

Serrano was fired last October for unspecified “unprofessional behavior,'' the suit states.

“When (Serrano) complained to her supervisors, including Lee, about Lesinski sexually harassing her, Lee told (Serrano) that she knew Lesinski was engaging in sexually harassing conduct in the workplace, but that she could not, and would not, do anything about it, because he was her friend,'' according to the suit.

Later, Lee and/or someone from CORE human resources management confronted Serrano regarding her complaints about Lesinski and stated roughly, “What did you do to make him feel uncomfortable like that?,'' the suit states.

Instead of doing a neutral investigation into Serrano's complaints, CORE contrived a reason to fire her, the suit states.

Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.

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