While executive director at now-defunct healthcare district for $350K; he denies accusations
Mayor pro tem, councilwoman call for his resignation
By Allen D. Payton
On Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to settle claims against Antioch Mayor Lamar Thorpe by two former female employees for $350,000 from when he was executive director of the now-defunct Los Medanos Community Healthcare District. Then in a press conference held Thursday afternoon, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Barbanica and District 3 Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock called for Thorpe to resign as mayor.
The healthcare district was disbanded, earlier this year, the county acts as the successor agency and now, receives the annual revenue estimated at $1.1 million. (See related article)
The women, whose names were provided in the documents as Bay Point resident Jasmine Cisneros and Antioch resident Jocelyn Munoz, filed their claims on February 22, 2022. The two made multiple accusations against Thorpe both on formal government forms and in a resignation letter from Munoz to healthcare district board president, Patt Young, including inappropriate touching and an incident of groping Cisneros while at a California Special Districts Association conference in Monterey.
Cisneros claimed she worked for the healthcare district “as a Community Outreach Specialist from approximately early 2020 to November 4, 2021, when she was forced to resign her employment. Ms. Cisneros resigned due to sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances, hostile working conditions, and other unlawful actions resulting from Executive Director Lamar Thorpe’s misconduct, and the District’s inaction, despite having knowledge of that misconduct. Ms. Cisneros has been injured as a result of Thorpe’s misconduct and the District’s inaction. Thorpe’s unwanted sexual advances, harassment, and other unlawful behavior continued until Ms. Cisneros resigned. Ms. Cisneros was forced to resign her employment as a result of Thorpe’s misconduct and the District’s inaction and has been harmed economically in the form of lost wages and emotional distress damages.”
Munoz claims she worked for the district “for approximately eight months, from early 2021 to September 2, 2021, when she was forced to resign her position. Ms. Munoz’s [sic] resigned due to sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances, hostile working conditions, and other unlawful actions resulting from Executive Director Lamar Thorpe’s misconduct, and the District’s inaction, despite having knowledge of that misconduct. See Exhibit A (Resignation letter). Thorpe’s unwanted sexual advances, harassment, and other unlawful behavior continued until Ms. Munoz resigned on September 2, 2021. Ms. Munoz has been injured as a result of Thorpe’s misconduct and the District’s inaction. Moreover, Ms. Munoz was forced to resign her employment as a result of Thorpe’s misconduct and the District’s inaction and has been harmed economically in the form of lost wages and emotional distress damages.”
Both claims show the amount of compensation sought “Exceeds $10,000”.
Munoz’s Resignation Letter Provides Details
In her resignation letter dated Sept. 3, 2021, Munoz provided details of two incidents involving Thorpe, including one at an Antioch restaurant and another during an out-of-town conference at both ladies, one of their partners and Thorpe stayed the night in a hotel. It also mentions “many levels of harassment and very high levels of hostile working conditions from board members and management. LMCHD has a culture of disrespect, bullying and harassment,” including “board members berating staff during public meetings”.
“In the season of the AB 903 celebration in early July 2021, my partner and I met with the executive director for LMCHD, Lamar Thorpe at La Plazuela in Antioch, CA to socialize and celebrate the win,” she wrote. “While we were seated, Lamar came between my partner and I, looked down at my leg and grabbed my leg; specifically my calf. While still holding my calf, he acknowledged the act and said, ‘this is sexual harassment, should I stop’ and let go. In that same instance, my partner and I agreed to his statement and said, ‘yeah what are you doing?!’ Being fearful of my job, status and Lamars [sic] social status as Mayor of Antioch and executive director I felt his simple acknowledgement was sufficient and I physically moved on, but mentally I still felt trapped.”
“Following the traumatizing experience, I witnessed another horrifying act on August 30, 2021 at the CSDA conference where I saw Lamar inappropriately grope my colleague when we (my partner, my colleague and executive director) were out socializing and walking back to our hotel,” her letter continued. “Immediately following the grope, my colleague got my undivided attention, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘PLEASE walk me back to my room’. My partner and I escorted my colleague to her room, and Lamar opened his hotel room door to check on us and gave us a sinister look. At that moment, my partner and I left to our hotel room.”
“The next day on August 31, 2021 my colleague, my partner and I went to lunch and were discussing what other seminars to attend, that’s where Lamar joked about attending the ‘sexual harassment training and prevention’ and also joked about the inappropriate grope that happened the night before,” Munoz wrote. “Later that evening of August 31, 2021 my colleague, my partner and I were having dinner and Lamar texted us ‘are y’all coming to this reception?’ referring to the conference networking mix and mingle. We did not respond and saw Lamar walk by our table and he ignored us. A few minutes later Lamar approached our table and said ‘hey haters!’ and made two inappropriate hand gestures, showing his middle fingers and walked away.”
On the “evening of September 1, 2021 Lamar texted my colleague and I ‘yo, ya’ll wanna go to Rolando’s house’. I politely declined, and then I heard a knock at my hotel room door. I did not answer fearing that it was Lamar. A few seconds later Lamar called and asked if I was in my room, confirming that the knock was him. He requested to meet with me to have a discussion,” the letter continued. “During the discussion he acknowledged the level of discomfort that he was feeling about the conversation and also stated that he didn’t want to have it. He opened with ‘are we cool?’ At that moment I felt cornered, trapped, triggered and manipulated into having to relive the events that happened on Monday night. The conversation went on for 15 minutes to which he was trying to get a temperature check on the situation at hand. At the end of the conversation, he asked what he could do to make things better. We met up with my partner inside the restaurant where he then approached my partner apologized to him, shook his hand and excused himself.”
“The final day, September 2, 2021 as we were all exiting the conferenced, I approached Lamar…he then proceeded to walk with me and said, ‘you still don’t seem ok’ referring to the events from Monday and the conversation we had the night before…I quickly made an excuse to try to avoid anymore discussion regarding Monday night, but that didn’t help and I ended the conversation by stating I wouldn’t be comfortable with anymore continued unwanted advances,” Munoz added.
“I hope this reveals the level of unprofessionalism at LMCHD, and I hope that this matter gets resolved in the best and most appropriate way. These past events have severely hindered my efficiency at work, my mental health and I don’t know how I can support LMCHD as an employee,” the letter concluded.
No Admissions in Settlement Agreement
The settlement agreement signed in August by the two women and a representative of the county’s Risk Management, includes a “No Admissions” clause. That reads, “It is understood and agreed by the PARTIES that the promises and payments and consideration of this Agreement shall not be construed to be an admission of any liability or obligation by any Party to another Party, the District, the County, Thorpe, or any other person, and the Releasees expressly deny that they have breached any duty, obligation or agreement, or engaged in any tortious or wrongful activity, or that they are liable to the Claimants or any other person or party in any way, or that any injuries, damages or harms of any kind have been sustained by the Claimants.”
Supervisors Explain Their Votes
Each of the county supervisors were asked why they voted to settle the claims. Board Chair Karen Mitchoff responded via email writing, “An independent investigation was performed and concluded it was likely the plaintiffs would prevail in litigation. As with all such claims, the Board was presented with this information, discussed the matter and concluded it was best to settle the matter, thus saving litigation costs and a potentially higher jury award.”
Both Districts 2 and 3 Supervisors Candace Andersen and Diane Burgis issued the same response, writing, “the insurance carrier for the former Los Medanos Community Healthcare District, RSUI Group Inc, handled this case and provided counsel to defend the claims against the former District. Following a mediation session among the parties, a settlement was reached. The Board of Supervisors approved the settlement solely in its capacity as the successor agency to the District. As the successor agency, the County was required to assume all liabilities of the former District, including the claims filed against the District.”
“I really don’t have any additional comments about the specifics of the case,” Andersen added.
Neither Supervisors John Gioia (District 1) nor Federal Glover (District 5) who represents portions of Antioch, responded prior to publication time.
Past Accusation Against Thorpe for Sexual Misconduct
It’s not the first time a woman has accused Thorpe of inappropriate sexual activity. As previously reported, while in college, Thorpe was found guilty of disorderly conduct for “lewd and indecent behavior” against a female student by Student Judicial Services at George Washington University, but he was acquitted of sexual harassment. Thorpe later lost an appeal to overturn the disorderly conduct charge. He has denied the incident ever occurred. In 2016, this reporter chose to believe him, and the Herald endorsed him for city council. (See related articles here and here)
Barbanica, Ogorchock Call for Thorpe’s Resignation
During a press conference held Thursday afternoon, at Barbanica’s business office, both he and Ogorchock called for Thorpe’s resignation. The mayor pro tem said he had sent a letter to Thorpe earlier in the day asking him to resign but had not yet heard back.
“This is a distraction for our city. We have a city of 114,000 people and the council has very serious business to do, yet we are sidetracked in these meetings by these types of issues,” Barbanica stated. “I do not believe that the behavior that is suspected, not convicted, but suspected, here is not indicative of a leader within our community; our council and our mayor should be held to a higher standard.”
He should “step aside, resign and allow the council to move forward. That’s what we’re asking him to do,” he added.
Asked if they had read the documents, Ogorchock responded, “I did. I read them all, from their statements, the filings, their release.”
“As did I,” Barbanica added.
Asked for their analysis of what they read he said, “Very concerning.”
Ogorchock responded, “As a woman I felt, that’s why I’m asking for his resignation. This is inexcusable. We can’t behave in this manner and be in a leadership position. You just can’t do that.”
“I’m very disappointed in what I read…in the court documents,” Barbanica later said. “This is not what the citizens want in a leader.”
Questions for Thorpe Go Unanswered, Denies Allegations
Thorpe was asked Friday morning to respond to both the settlement and the calls for his resignation. He was also asked if anything included in the complaints from your two former female employees, true, if they both worked directly for him and how many employees worked at the district when he was executive director.
Thorpe was also asked if he had found a new job and what he is doing for work. He was also asked about a severance that he and the other district employees were each provided, and how long did or will it last.
Finally, Thorpe was asked if he hired the two women, approved their hiring or compensation, or involved in any way in their hiring process and if so, how.
He did not respond as of publication time Friday afternoon. However, according to an East Bay Times report
On Thursday, Thorpe issued a statement denying the allegations.
“I am wholeheartedly heart-broken by these allegations, as they are completely false. When I served as the executive director of the Los Medanos Community Healthcare District (LMCHD), I worked to create an environment that gave opportunities to members of our community that were historically marginalized, as I have always sought to make change through empowerment.
“As the members of my team at the LMCHD can attest, the environment that I created was one of positivity and respect. Although saddened by the allegations, I will not be making any comment about the individuals involved, as I want to continue believing in the good in people, and not allow for this moment to shut down my spirit of community.”
Former Board Chair Patt Young Also Denies Allegations Against Thorpe
When reached for comment about the allegations against Thorpe, former LMCHD Board Chair Patt Young, now a member of the Contra Costa Water District board, said, “I actually, reviewed the allegations, and it just wasn’t credible. He had and has my full support. I found the allegations to be unfounded.”
Asked what she did when she received Munoz’s letter in September, Young responded, “I forwarded, I always forward to our legal counsel. It had to go there, first.”
When asked if she was at the CSDA conference where one of the incidents is alleged to have occurred, Young said, “I was, but I wasn’t with them that evening.”
Asked if she or anyone from the board reached out to the two women, Young stated, “we couldn’t. It would be a violation of the law.
Efforts to reach both Cisneros and Munoz for responses to the denials by Thorpe and Young were unsuccessful prior to publication time.
Wilson Labels Calls for Resignation “Racially Divisive Grandstanding”
In that same Times article, District 4 Councilwoman Monica Wilson claimed calls for Thorpe’s resignation by Barbanica and Ogorchock to be “racially divisive grandstanding”. Ogorchock is one of Wilson’s three challengers in this year’s council election, after Wilson, Thorpe and District 1 Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker drew and then approved a gerrymandered redistricting map, moving Ogorchock into District 4. (See related article)
Ogorchock Responds to Wilson’s Comments
In a post on her official Facebook page Friday morning, Ogorchock wrote, “After reading remarks made by Councilwoman Wilson in response to the press conference held yesterday with Mayor Pro Tem Barbanica and myself requesting Mayor Thorpe to resign appear to be a deflection of the real issues.
Councilwoman Wilson is ignoring that two women presented valid claims of sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances, hostile working conditions and other unlawful actions. The real issue is the detailed actions of Mayor Thorpe as outlined by the two women under his direction as the executive director.
In speaking with County Supervisor Mitchoff this morning she said, and I quote “after the completion of the investigation and based on credible facts we settled the case”. The county, who took control of the defunct healthcare district, settled the case for $350k.
I stand by my statements made yesterday, and believe that Mayor Thorpe should resign.”
Former Councilwoman Supports Thorpe’s Resignation
“He ought to step down. Enough is enough. First drunk driving, arrested for that. Now, this. Come on. We deserve better in the city of Antioch. Get out,” stated former Antioch Councilwoman Norma Hernandez. “I’m very suspicious of all these allegations that have happened, way in the past and now, if they are true, and this is the mayor representing all of us in the city of Antioch.”
Please check back later for any updates to this report.