Sean Doherty filed suit April 14 in the Sacramento County Superior Court against the California State Assembly, the Assembly Rules Committee, several Assembly Human Resource Officers and his old boss, Assemblyman Devon Mathis.
He is suing Mathis and the Assembly for wrongful termination, breach of contract and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Sources inside Sacramento say that neither the Rules Committee nor Mathis have yet been served.
Doherty was Mathis’ Chief of Staff from April 16, 2015 to May 10, 2017, when he was fired by the Assembly Rules Committee.
In February, the Assembly Rules Committee released documents detailing sexual harassment investigations against 18 lawmakers and high-ranking staffers over the past decade.
Doherty was one of those cases and was fired for sexually explicit comments and verbal abuse of staffers, according to the documents. He says the charges are unfounded.
He counters in the suit “that the assembly has not released all complaints and that he is aware of at least one formal complaint against Mathis that was omitted from the Assembly’s media release.”
Additionally, he claims that Mathis fired him out of retaliation for his trying to curb Mathis’ sexual exploits, excessive drinking, gender-based discrimination, and misuse of state resources.
Doherty is suing the assembly because he claims that the assembly’s rules committee protected Mathis’ alleged behavior and stood silent while Mathis retaliated against him.
Instead of helping him reign in Mathis’ conduct, he asserts, the Assembly Human Resource Administrators told him he would likely be terminated if he filed a formal complaint against his boss.
In the suit, he states that Mathis’ intent in terminating him was to cause emotional distress.
The firing was executed “with the specific intent of causing harm knowing that not only that emotional distress would probably result from his actions, but also hoping for that result,” the suit states.
Since his termination Doherty claims that in addition to financial hardship, he has suffered from “anguish, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shock, humiliation, and more.”
Justin Turner, Mathis’ current Chief of Staff, stated that he was advised legal representation to refrain from commenting on the suit, stating only that it was without merit.
“This is a baseless suit filed by a disgruntled former employee who was terminated by the Assembly.”
Doherty claims he tried to reign in Mathis’ behavior
“To help cure dysfunction in his office, Assemblyman Devon Mathis lured Plaintiff Sean Doherty away from his more lucrative consulting practice with the promise of long-term employment. Doherty realized that the dysfunctions ran all the way to the top. Fixing the problems in Mathis’ office required that Doherty prevent Mathis from misusing state resources, engaging in sexual harassment, and other improper, inappropriate, and illegal behavior,” the suit’s introductory paragraph states.
“Mathis pushed back against this effort, retaliated against Doherty, and broke his promise by terminating Doherty’s employment,” it continues.
Cole Azare, Mathis’ campaign manager in 2014 — and the first of four Chiefs of Staff to serve Mathis in three years — contradicts the claims Doherty’s suit. In prior interviews with the Valley Voice, Azare stated that Mathis did not drink excessively, display inappropriate behavior or mishandle funds while he was at the helm.
The issue of Mathis’ alleged excessive drinking in Sacramento has never been conclusively proven or disproven.
Trent Lindsey, a former local field representative for Mathis, corroborates Azare’s observations.
“I also never saw Mathis drink excessively or act inappropriately at the many campaign events I attended with him during the 2016 election cycle. In contrast to Mathis’ behavior, I frequently observed Doherty drinking excessively and harassing women here in the district, especially when his wife, Thanne, was not around,” Lindsey said.
Trystine Payer, who worked for Mathis in the Sacramento office from December 2015 to August 2016, said that she is sick of her former boss being portrayed as a perpetrator.
She stated that it was Doherty who required the staff to go out drinking after work for “team building.”
Payer said that it was Doherty who actually did everything stated in the lawsuit — including the sexual harassment — and not Mathis.
Making the claim of financial hardship in his suit also contradicts the fact that Doherty’s family and his personal consulting business profited from Mathis’ campaign and employment in Sacramento.
Not only were Doherty, his wife, and his daughter employed by Mathis, the Mathis campaign fund paid $61,759.29 to their consulting business Willow Grace Productions in 2015. This was above and beyond their three salaries.
Even after Doherty was fired by the Assembly Rules Committee, Mathis continued paying Doherty’s consulting business for six months to the tune of $50,000.
Doherty’s suit repeats prior sexual assault allegations
In October 2017, Mathis was accused of sexually assaulting a young staffer during a night of heavy drinking in Sacramento. The Sacramento Police Department opened an investigation but dropped the case for lack of evidence.
The accusations were first reported by Joseph Turner, a conservative blogger with the group American Children First. The source of the blogger’s story has never been determined.
Payner believes Doherty was “absolutely” the source of the story.
“I know how he describes that narrative; and knowing him, and knowing Devon, it just screamed Doherty,” Payner said.
Doherty’s suit claims that on April 27, Doherty, Mathis, Justin Turner, Turner’s wife and the scheduler went out for drinks after work. Doherty left the party by 10 p.m. and the rest of the group went to Turner’s condo to continue partying.
At the time, Turner was Mathis’ legislative director.
According to the filing, Turner allegedly told Doherty the story of what happened after he left.
The scheduler, Turner said, drank too much and became sick. Turner’s wife reportedly put her to bed in their guest room.
“Mathis excused himself to use the restroom. When he had not returned after approximately 15 minutes, Turner’s wife checked on him and found Mathis fondling the Scheduler who he had partially undressed, The Scheduler woke up during the commotion and asked, ‘Was he fingering me?’,” the suit reads.
“Doherty confronted Mathis about this incident, and Mathis did not deny it. Instead, Mathis told Doherty that “she wanted it,” it continues.
Turner later recanted his story according to the suit.
“Around the same time, he (Turner) received a raise and promotion in Mathis’ office. Mathis later justified the fact that Turner was paid more than a female employee with comparable duties because Turner ‘had his back’ with respect to the April 27, 2016 incident,” it states.
Doherty describes in his suit three additional incidents of sexually inappropriate behavior.
But, Lindsey claims it was actually Doherty who sexually harassed staffers.
“On other occasions, Doherty would make inappropriate comments about female staffers in the legislative office. He would say things like, ‘I wonder what she is willing to do for me since I got her hired,’ or ‘I’m gonna try to f**k that one.’ These comments were also extended to my spouse and Mathis’ spouse,” he said.
Misuse of State Funds
Doherty also claims in his suit that Mathis vouched for a “college buddy” who worked for the Assembly Rules Committee. Mathis reported to the committee that the staffer was working for him in his district office, while in reality he was allegedly on vacation.
“The employee was one of Mathis’ college buddies and posted on social media reports about his cruise to Mexico and the Caribbean,” the suit claims. ‘The Rules Committee docked the employee’s pay for the time spent away from work. Mathis intervened and informed the Rules Committee that the employee had been working in the Visalia District Office even though Mathis knew that this assertion was false.”
The Rules Committee allegedly restored the employee’s pay.
Azare stated that it wasn’t until his departure that irregularities with handling money started happening.
Lindsey, who mostly worked on Mathis’ campaign, found Doherty to be careless with money while Mathis was frugal.
“In fact, at times I thought him to be a little too frugal,” he said.
“Doherty frequently misused campaign funds for things like coffee, meals, and parking in Sacramento while on the legislature’s time,” Lindsey said. “Doherty would frequently complain about money spent on campaign necessities (like office supplies) and in the same day, spend hundreds of dollars at local restaurants on the campaign debit card.”
Lindsey recounts the handling of donations at one of Mathis’ successful campaign fundraiser at the Visalia Country Club.
“Both Doherty’s (Sean and Thanne) were extremely particular about who was allowed to handle campaign funds, often times completely bypassing the campaign’s treasurer. At one fundraiser, at the Visalia County Club, I observed the Doherty’s maintaining two separate piles of checks (the checks attendees would hand over as they entered the event),” he said. “One pile was checks that were completely filled out. The other pile were checks that hadn’t been made out to anyone (sometimes people don’t understand who to make the checks out to).”
“I suspect the latter pile didn’t make it into the campaign coffers,” he said.
In a comment given to the Valley Voice, Doherty said that his suit “speaks for itself.”
“I did the right thing and was punished for it. At this point, my complaint speaks for itself and I’m looking forward to getting my day in court,” he said.