Editor’s note: This is one of three opinion pieces being published locally on the eve of the San Diego Democratic Party’s 38th Annual Roosevelt Dinner & Awards Ceremony concerning sexual harassment and the creation of a mechanism within the organization recognizing the needs of victims, along with those who advocate for them. The other articles are #MeToo Democratic Women ‘Will Not Be Quiet’ at Annual Party Dinner by Carol Kim and Alexis Olbrei at the Times of San Diego and an opinion piece at Voice of San Diego, signed by 29 Democratic women activists.
By Rosy Miner, Isaura Garcia, Odett McAdams, and Debbie Principe
We are former employees who worked under Mickey Kasparian, President of UFCW Local 135. For more than a year, we have stood with our sisters: Sandy Naranjo, Isabel Vasquez, Anabel Arauz, and more recently Melody Godinez, who all filed lawsuits with serious claims involving our former boss.
We have firsthand knowledge of what it is like to work for Kasparian, and we have volunteered for several Democratic candidates over the years.
Our Party has failed us in its handling of – or refusal to handle – him.
As has been well-covered in San Diego Free Press, Sandy, Isabel, Anabel, and Melody filed lawsuits beginning in December 2016 involving serious claims against Kasparian. These cases were recently resolved prior to trial, though none of us is privy to the details. Despite the high-profile nature of Kasparian, a San Diego political kingmaker, and career-ender of those who cross him, and the heavy news coverage of the lawsuits against him, the settlements are apparently confidential.
Our sisters can no longer use their voices to speak about him. Civil litigation was their only “due process” remedy, and the result has silenced them.
Between them, they accused Mickey Kasparian of gender discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, and worst of all: quid pro quo sexual harassment. Sandy, Isabel, and Anabel all started at UFCW Local 135 as favored, beautiful Latinas working under Kasparian with promising careers. That is, they were his favorites until they stopped playing by his rules.
All these concerns were communicated to leaders and Central Committee members of the San Diego County Democratic Party. Many told us and our fellow supporters that they were concerned about the claims, but those who spoke up internally were told there was no mechanism to investigate nor remove an alternate to the Central Committee and statewide delegate. After communicating this, Party leaders began protecting Mickey.
So we began protesting the monthly meetings of the San Diego County Democratic Party.
Rather than take action to help women and act according to the values in the Democratic Party platform, leadership moved the monthly meetings to a location they could more easily control to try to silence our protests and protect Mickey Kasparian.
During our many months of activism, one of the women who was paying attention decided she could no longer keep quiet about the burden she had long carried. Melody Godinez was deposed in Isabel’s case in December 2017, and this emboldened her to go public with her own legal claims of being sexually accosted by Kasparian. While she was not an employee of his union, she is an Executive Board member of SEIU Local 221, a union with close ties to his at the time of her allegations. Melody was no longer willing to live in fear of his retaliation by keeping his behaviors toward her silent, though she was threatened even a week prior to her deposition.
Following Melody bravely going public with her stories of Mickey’s mistreatment of her, several high-profile local elected officials finally broke their silence and stated that he should resign from his positions of leadership, even temporarily while litigation played its course. By then he had resigned from his roles in the local Democratic Party by this time (though he has sent union-funded donations) but remains a powerful local labor leader. Many have expressed their beliefs that he should no longer be in a position to hurt those he works alongside.
Despite all this, Kasparian’s notorious political retaliation is strong this electoral season. He is using the assets funded by the working people at his union and others – funds almost unilaterally at his disposal – to punish those candidates and local elected leaders who dared stand with us and Sandy, Isabel, Anabel, and Melody. He is funding their political opponents, some of whom are Republicans, as retribution for their principled actions.
As Democrats and activists who have volunteered many hours helping elect Democratic candidates, we were extremely disappointed by the inaction by the County Party when we, along with women and men standing with us, asked for an independent investigation into our sisters’ serious claims against their member of the Central Committee. Kasparian received special treatment and evaded punishment for violating his own Party meeting attendance rules last fall, and a day later the Party received a $10,000 donation from UFCW Local 135.
The local San Diego County Democratic Party needs better systems to stand with those activists and employees who allege sexual harassment within the ranks. We all have walked for several Party endorsed candidates over the years, our union dues and contributions have supported these same candidates, some of whom were too scared or unprincipled to stand with us when we went up against our old boss and union colleague. We expect better from a political body that purports to protect women and workers.
The lawsuits filed by our sisters, Sandy Naranjo, Isabel Vasquez, Anabel Arauz, and Melody Godinez have now been resolved prior to trial, but in such a way that allows for convenient silence on the part of Democratic Party and Labor movement insiders. This was unacceptable while we stood with them as they lived through the public shaming and silence from our should-be champions, and it remains unacceptable now. We all will remain active locally – you will see us around – and some of you are tremendous disappointments of those who chose political cowardice over what is right. But you have the opportunity to right the course for others.
Support change that will help people resolve claims internally, outside the public shaming, limited justice, and expense of the Court process. Find ways to listen and support those who have claimed difficult allegations against powerful people.
And do not silence fellow Democrats who stand united against abuses that take place in the workplace, industry, and activist circles. It is the only way to protect women like us, and our sisters, from the pain of similar ordeals in the future.
As many in our community celebrate successes this weekend at the annual Roosevelt Dinner, the biggest fundraiser, and awards ceremony for the San Diego County Democratic Party, keep in mind the ways the Party needs to build to live up to its ideals, this election season and beyond.
Otherwise, the praises are empty, and the words of those who claim to uphold Party ideals are meaningless. San Diego people, workers, survivors of sexual harassment: we all deserve better. Our Democratic Party should be the one leading the way.