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In Maywood, allegations of sexual harassment add to troubled city's problems

In Maywood, allegations of sexual harassment add to troubled city's problems
A woman pushes a toddler in a stroller past City Hall in Maywood in 2016. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

About six months ago Reuben Martinez, Maywood’s acting city manager, went on stress leave.

His departure happened a week after authorities served search warrants at City Hall and the homes of current and former city officials as part of a possible corruption investigation.

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Rumors ensued about Martinez’s leave, more so after his employment with the scandal-prone city quietly ended.

Now, a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a city employee in June provides a possible explanation for the former administrator’s departure.

In her lawsuit, Rose Vasquez alleged that while she worked as an executive assistant for Martinez she was sexually harassed, threatened and physically assaulted by him.

The 28-page court document also alleges that the mayor and other officials did not intervene even after Martinez had targeted other female workers.

“The mayor did nothing. He told them: ‘too bad’ and that everyone has to ‘deal’ with defendant Martinez because the city would not fire him,” the court document read.

Mayor Ramon Medina, who was found guilty of animal cruelty a week ago, said he could not comment on a pending litigation matter.

The lawsuit is the latest legal problem for the 1.2-square-mile city. It has long struggled with financial issues and political controversies. Seemingly always on the brink of financial collapse, the town played a role in a huge corruption investigation in neighboring Bell.

Maywood officials had hired Bell to manage key city functions, an arrangement that fell apart when that city became entangled in a scandal involving over-the-top salaries for council members and city administrators.

Several southeast Los Angeles County cities, including Maywood, have been mired in municipal corruption for decades.

The collection of small cities along the 710 Freeway — Vernon, Bell, Huntington Park, South Gate, Cudahy — have faced generations of political upheaval, with prosecutors claiming politicians take advantage of electorates who are not always plugged in to what's going on. Some cities have enacted reforms after scandals.

Maywood once had a police department that became a haven for many cops who had been forced out of previous jobs or had brushes with the law. A 16-month investigation by the California attorney general revealed that the culture at the department was "permeated with sexual innuendo, harassment, vulgarity, discourtesy to members of the public as well as among officers, and a lack of cultural, racial and ethnic sensitivity and respect."

Two years ago, a state audit found that Maywood was more than $15 million in debt.

Martinez, a former projects manager for Boeing, was hired April 16 as Maywood continued to recover from its financial problems. Martinez did not have experience running a city, and it was later revealed that he was a customer of the mayor's mechanic shop, R&M Auto Service.

Martinez could not be reached by phone. He did not respond to text messages seeking comment.

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According to the sexual harassment lawsuit, problems between Martinez and Vasquez began in May 2017 when he began asking her out on dates.

“He often offered to give plaintiff rides home, take her out for drinks, treat her to dinner, take her to the movies and similar proposals,” the lawsuit read.

Vasquez, a single mother, said she tried to keep the relationship professional but eventually accepted car rides and some outings because Martinez was her boss and she worried about losing her job. But his advances grew more brazen and inappropriate with time, according to the lawsuit.

Last June, “defendant Martinez came to plaintiff’s apartment uninvited. She was upset and told him to leave. He said, ‘I’m your boss, it’s OK,’” the lawsuit read.

The advances turned physical by August 2017 when Martinez allegedly told Vasquez to pick up computer speakers from the sheriff’s substation that was adjacent to City Hall.

“When plaintiff arrived, defendant Martinez was in the room alone,” the lawsuit read. “Defendant Martinez then cornered her, grabbed her aggressively and tried to kiss her. Plaintiff panicked, fought him off and rushed out of the door.”

The lawsuit claims that Martinez targeted and pursued other women who eventually left their jobs as a result of it.

“One woman’s boyfriend confronted Martinez due to his sexual advances. Another woman was confronted by Martinez’s wife, who became jealous after seeing flirtatious texts to the women,” the lawsuit read.

Vasquez, who still works for Maywood, claimed that she had reported Martinez’s alleged misconduct to several administrators but nothing was done.

“Given everything that had happened, plaintiff was at her breaking point,” the lawsuit read. “She struggled to sleep or eat and her quality of life plummeted. Her hair started falling out due to stress.”

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