Harassment, retaliation settlements under Harris as California AG could pose problems for Democrats

Harris, the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee, led a Department of Justice in California that had to pay out more than $1 million in settlements related to gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and other issues on her watch.

Updated: August 12, 2020 - 4:08pm

As Democratic Party voters focus on race and gender issues, former Vice President Joe Biden's history of racial gaffes and his new running mate Sen. Kamala Harris' record managing a department rife with gender harassment could prove problematic with the Democratic base.

Biden has made many race-related gaffes over the years, most recently telling radio host Charlamagne the God, "You ain't black" if you vote against him.

Biden also delivered a speech at former Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd's funeral service, citing him as a "mentor." Byrd was a member of the KKK before his election to the Senate.

Harris, the presumptive vice presidential nominee, led a Department of Justice in California that had to pay out more than $1 million in settlements related to gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and other issues on her watch.

These settlements will likely resurface during the course of the general election campaign given the influence of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements in the Democratic Party.

The California Department of Justice payouts to its employees totaled $1.1 million in settlements during Harris' tenure as the state's attorney general (2011-17), according to news reports.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that "the incidents included allegations that DOJ employees sexually harassed and retaliated against co-workers, including claims involving inappropriate touching and cases in which workers felt uncomfortable with the comments and actions of others."

In one case, the department paid close to $35,000 to Harris' former chief deputy attorney general Terry Carbaugh following a "dispute."

Under the settlement, both parties agreed "not to disclose, discuss or provide the contents or terms of this Agreement to third parties, except as expressly authorized by this Agreement or in response to formal requests authorized by law."

In another case, a female executive assistant to Larry Wallace, a top aide to Harris, alleged that he engaged in "gender harassment and discriminated against her." There was a $400,000 payment made in 2016 to settle the case, and Wallace wound up resigning from Harris' Senate staff after reports about the payment surfaced in the press. 

Last year, a spokesperson for Harris said she was not aware of the settlement until she read about it in news. However, Harris said she takes responsibility for the incidents that occurred under her leadership. 

"As the chief executive of a department of nearly 5,000 employees, the buck stopped with me," Harris said in a statement. "No one should face harassment or intimidation in the workplace, and victims of sexual misconduct should be listened to, believed and protected."

In May, Harris was also sued by an anti-abortion investigative journalist who claims Harris violated her civil rights when she was attorney general.

Looking at Harris' first term in the Senate, the former California Attorney General has taken controversial positions on a host of hot button issues.

Harris was an original Senate co-sponsor with Sen. Bernie Sanders of the "Medicare for all" bill, which would essentially eliminate the existing private insurance system.

In 2017, Harris advocated for reducing federal funding for immigration detention centers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"To minimize damage, we need to reduce funding for President Trump's deportation force and provide no funds for his costly and unnecessary border wall," Harris said at the time, claiming, "President Trump pledged to build a deportation force to indiscriminately deport the nation's undocumented immigrants."

When addressing calls from progressive politicians to abolish ICE, Harris said last year that the U.S. government should "probably" consider "starting from scratch" with ICE.

She was also a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, which is estimated to cost more than $16 trillion. Harris has said she supports a ban on the sale of gas and diesel vehicles by 2035.

New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Harris recently teamed up to introduce a climate equity bill that contains elements of the Green New Deal.

Despite her ties to legislation and policy proposals supported by Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, Harris said during the presidential campaign that she is not a "democratic socialist."

Harris also claimed during the Democratic presidential primary that she had sued ExxonMobil but experts pointed out that was not the case. Several reports indicate that no formal lawsuit was filed against ExxonMobil while Harris was attorney general.

Despite this, Harris vowed to sue ExxonMobile if she was elected president.