California Treasurer Fiona Ma to Face Trial in Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

State Treasurer Fiona Ma must stand trial in a lawsuit by a former high-ranking female employee who accuses Ma of sexually harassing her by climbing into bed and exposing herself, then firing her for rejecting the sexual advances, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judith Blackwell has made allegations that, if believed by a jury, would establish that Ma sexually harassed her, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Christopher Krueger said in a ruling denying Ma’s motion to dismiss the case.

He said Blackwell, who is African American, had also presented evidence of racial discrimination, allegations that Ma made racist statements and treated Black employees worse than others. But Krueger said the evidence could not be presented to the jury because the state treasurer’s office had presented adequate, independent grounds for Ma’s firing of Blackwell, based on her job performance. For the same reason, he dismissed Blackwell’s claim that she was wrongfully fired in retaliation for her complaints.

Ma, 57, served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, then in the state Assembly and the state Board of Equalization before being elected treasurer in 2018. She has said she plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2026.

Ma has called Blackwell’s allegations “baseless,” and said she has rejected offers to settle the case and looks forward to “bringing the truth to light in court.”

“As the treasurer has said repeatedly, we look forward to having these meritless allegations being dismissed,” Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for Ma, told the Chronicle on Thursday.

The lawsuit, filed after Blackwell was fired in 2021, alleged that while she and Ma were sharing rooms at a hotel and a rental property, Ma called her into Ma’s bedroom four times and crawled into bed with her at least once.

“She exposed her bare rear end directly to Plaintiff on multiple occasions,” attorney Waukeen McCoy wrote in the lawsuit. “Ms. Ma’s actions were intentional and not accidental, and it was done to get Plaintiff’s attention. Plaintiff was uncomfortable and was fearful to comment on Ms. Ma’s lewd behavior.”

In her dismissal motion, Ma denied the allegations and said it was Blackwell who had entered Ma’s bedroom. She denied touching Blackwell and said the four incidents “were not sexual” but instead were “random, isolated incidents that do not constitute sexual harassment.”

But Krueger said a jury could reach a different conclusion.

Evidence provided by Ma herself indicates that “she called (Blackwell) into her room while half-dressed on three separate occasions and climbed into bed with her on a fourth,” the judge wrote.

In claiming racial bias, Blackwell alleged that the treasurer’s office had dismissed other Black senior executives without cause. She also alleged, and Ma denied, that the treasurer once said all the Black children in her high school never turned in their homework.

Those allegations, if proved, could show discrimination, Krueger said. But he said the Treasurer’s office had presented “legitimate” reasons for firing Blackwell, including her failure to be communicative with her subordinates, failure to keep minutes at all board meetings, failure to handle issues involving other workers, and failure to prepare necessary documents on time.

Blackwell’s claim of retaliatory firing must also be dismissed, the judge said, because she provided no evidence that she had “objected to any sexual advances from Ma.”

Investigations by the Sacramento Bee found Ma frequently shared hotel rooms with staff during her first two years in office “to save money.” Another investigation by the paper found that Ma, who lives in San Francisco, charged taxpayers more for business trips to Sacramento during that time than any other statewide elected official, including those who lived in Southern California.

Click here to read the full article in the San Francisco Chronicle