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California Democratic Party employee alleges intimidation by top official, withdraws from lawsuit against organization

California Democratic Party employee alleges intimidation by top official, withdraws from lawsuit against organization
Daraka Larimore-Hall, now vice chair of the California Democratic Party, speaks at the state party convention in 2018.

A female employee of the California Democratic Party who alleged a workplace culture of harassment, retaliation and discrimination is withdrawing from a lawsuit she filed against the organization and its former chairman.

Kate Earley, who works as a digital director for the party, wrote in a Medium post Tuesday that she will “vigorously defend every allegation” made in the lawsuit but that she dropped her claims so she could speak openly about a senior party official the suit mentions.

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In the post, Earley alleges that California Democratic Party Vice Chairman Daraka Larimore-Hall, who is campaigning to lead the party, intimidated her and another plaintiff after Larimore-Hall’s name was included in the suit.

Larimore-Hall is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in January and does not accuse him of harassment or misconduct. But the suit alleges that Larimore-Hall did not inform Earley and her fellow plaintiffs that he was going forward with a complaint against then-Chairman Eric Bauman after a discussion of allegations against the party leader. The lawsuit also claims that “Larimore-Hall was not willing or able to support Kate [Earley] as he had promised.”

In an interview with The Times, Larimore-Hall denied intimidating any of the plaintiffs.

“I’m really heartbroken that I wasn’t able to do more to help,” Larimore-Hall said. “The advice I offered [Earley] was heartfelt and the best I thought I could do under the circumstances.”

Earley told The Times that she felt she needed to speak up in light of the race for party chair and the 2020 election.

“The downside of being involved in civil litigation is that you can’t speak out, you can’t call people out,” she said.

Earley was one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit, in which she sought punitive damages in addition to payment for lost wages. Attorney Esperanza Anderson said the suit will continue with her remaining clients: Alton Wang, whose employment with the California Democratic Party was terminated last year, and Will Rodriguez-Kennedy, who is still employed by the party.

Earley’s claims in the lawsuit included an incident first reported by The Times, in which Bauman was alleged to have asked her and another female party employee if they were having an affair. Earley also alleged that state party Controller Dan Weitzman made comments about the other woman’s physical appearance.

Bauman resigned in November following multiple allegations of misconduct.

The California Democratic Party said in a statement Wednesday that it is “strongly supportive of our staff” and that acting Chairwoman Alex Gallardo-Rooker’s “foremost concern is the safety and well-being of CDP employees and the larger Democratic community.” The party declined to comment on Larimore-Hall.

Last month, Earley, Wang and Rodriguez-Kennedy amended their lawsuit to allege that an unnamed senior party official had “harassed and intimidated” two of them in an effort to pressure them to remove certain allegations from the suit or drop it altogether.

In a statement posted on Facebook last week, Larimore-Hall denied the allegations.

“To be clear, I never encouraged anybody to drop their lawsuit. I never threatened anybody and I never sent ‘surrogates’ to threaten or intimidate anyone,” he wrote. “In retrospect, some of those conversations may have been taken out of context.”

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After Earley identified Larimore-Hall in her Medium post Tuesday as the official referenced in the suit, Larimore-Hall responded with a second statement.

“I did not and am not equipped to put myself forth as having all the answers on how best to approach these situations,” Larimore-Hall wrote, adding that he was limited in his ability to influence the party’s handling of the investigation into Bauman’s misconduct.

“For those who were disappointed that I could not and did not do more: I am sorry,” he wrote.

Larimore-Hall is among several Democrats running to become the party’s next chair, including Bay Area activist Kimberly Ellis and Rusty Hicks, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Party delegates are slated to elect a new leader at their May convention in San Francisco.

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