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Zócalo Public Square founder engaged in discriminatory and inappropriate conduct, investigation finds

The head of a Los Angeles nonprofit focused on promoting cultural events and inclusive discussions created an abusive work environment and engaged in behavior that discriminated against female, same-sex and disabled employees, according to an internal investigation by Arizona State University, which oversees the organization.

The probe into Gregory Rodriguez, publisher of Zócalo Public Square, “did reveal significant unprofessional conduct” in his capacity as the manager and supervisor of Zócalo, a university spokesperson said Saturday.

Rodriguez founded Zócalo in 2003, growing it into a well-regarded civic organization that has partnered with UCLA, the Getty, the Smithsonian and other prominent institutions. The organization has put on hundreds of events and lectures centered around politics, immigration and history. The nonprofit also syndicates its journalism to numerous news outlets, according to its website.

“Proposals have been made regarding Mr. Rodriguez’s future with Zócalo Public Square,” the ASU spokesperson said. "[Arizona State] President Michael Crow has not made a final decision about his employment status and the future structure of Zócalo Public Square.”

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Rodriguez did not respond to calls and an email from The Times on Saturday. A source, who requested anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak on his behalf, said Rodriguez is traveling overseas.

rodriguez.2
1999 file photo of Gregory Rodriguez.
(Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times)

Joe Mathews, an editor and columnist at Zócalo Public Square since 2011, expressed shock over the behavior attributed to Rodriguez.

“I have never witnessed any of the misconduct now being described,” Mathews said. “I saw a person who was incredibly caring, thoughtful, bright and just full of heart. None of this makes any sense to me.”

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Mathews is a former Los Angeles Times reporter. Rodriguez also wrote for The Times as an op-ed contributor.

Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is listed on the Zócalo Public Square website as a trustee, said Saturday that he was not aware of the behavior attributed to Rodriguez or the report.

The Times interviewed three people who said they worked at Zócalo Public Square and complained to the university about Rodriguez. All sought anonymity because they feared retaliation.

The three-page report found violations of the university’s policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

The report, which The Times reviewed, does not name Rodriguez, instead referring to the subject as “he” or the “respondent” who “is in charge of a university knowledge enterprise located in Los Angeles” and who founded an “independent non-profit organization.”

The three people interviewed by The Times said they received a copy of the report last week in response to their complaints about Rodriguez.

“In addition to creating an abusive work environment for all employees, respondent’s treatment of female employees was notably worse,” the report states.

He called female employees “bitch” and “little girl,” and encouraged one worker to “use” her “sensuality” at work, the report says. He regularly berated employees and in one case, yelled at a woman while he shook her, it says.

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He made disparaging comments about female employees’ relationships and their desire to marry or have children, which he considered “reflective of a disinclination to work hard, an indication of their inability to succeed in the workplace,” the report states.

He didn’t make similar remarks to male employees regarding fatherhood, according to the report.

The report also states that Rodriguez referred to an employee who he perceived to be disabled as “Eeyore” and “mopey,” suggesting to others that the worker was depressed.

He suggested to employees that he had close relationships with Arizona State University leadership and threatened to fire employees, even though he had no authority to do so, causing employees to feel reluctant to report his behavior, the report says.

The university received complaints about Rodriguez in August and placed him on paid administrative leave while launching an investigation, the university spokesperson said. Rodriguez‘s salary is $220,779, the spokesperson said.

Arizona State University began funding Zócalo Public Square in 2010 and took it over in 2017, the university spokesperson said. It has an operating budget this year of about about $1 million and has nine employees. The university is expanding its presence in Los Angeles and is taking over space in the former Herald Examiner building in downtown.

Zócalo Public Square’s board of trustees includes an array of local leaders such as Yaroslavsky, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Jennifer Ferro, president of KCRW, according to its website.


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