Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-26) may soon be back in court, once again facing allegations a member of his staff was harassed and then wrongfully terminated.
Dismissed with Prejudice
The case–originally filed in May of 2018 by Janie Sustaita, a former field representative in Mathis’ Visalia office who claims she was harassed because of her sex and eventually fired without cause–was dismissed “with prejudice” due to inaction on the part of Sustaita. The dismissal came in July 2020.
A dismissal with prejudice generally indicates a case has been permanently closed and cannot be refiled. This case, however, was dismissed because of inaction on the part of Sustaita’s attorney, Chad Morgan, who was ordered to pay a sanction of $1,675 to Mathis.
Sustaita–who is named as Juanita De Raadt in court filings–said she only learned the case had been dismissed when reading media coverage of Mathis’ 2020 re-election campaign.
Intent to Refile
Sustaita said she has since spoken with a different attorney who advised her the case can be filed again. She said she intends to do so.
“I’m not letting this drop,” Sustaita said.
She has also filed a complaint against Morgan with the California State Bar Association because of his handling of her case. Morgan also represented Mathis’ former chief of staff, Sean Doherty, in a similar wrongful dismissal case. Doherty was fired in May of 2017. That case was also dismissed because of inaction on the part of the plaintiff.
When asked for his reaction to Sustaita’s announcement she intends to seek damages again, Mathis issued a one-line statement.
“I agree with the judges (sic) ruling,” Mathis said.
The Alleged Harassment
In her original complaint, Sustaita claims she was continually subjected to name-calling based on her sex from Mathis and his chief of staff, Justin Turner, while working in Mathis’ Visalia office.
Also named as defendants in the case were Turner–who has apparently since been fired–the State Assembly, the Assembly Rules Committee, the State of California and Tosha Cherry, the Assembly’s human resources director. Because official entities were named as co-defendants, the cost of Mathis’ defense was paid by the state.
Sustaita claims that besides the bullying and harassment, she was expected to “babysit” Mathis, whom she alleges is an alcoholic. When she complained to her bosses at the Assembly, Sustaita says she was ignored and encouraged to find other employment.
Officially, the complaint against Mathis alleged termination in violation of public policy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. It requested payment of several classes of damages for the alleged wrongdoing.
Attacked by Supporters
Until she hires new legal representation, Sustaita is somewhat reluctant to talk about her experiences with Mathis publically. When her case became public knowledge after it was filed in 2018, Sustaita says she was attacked online and harassed by Mathis’ supporters.
“I’m just frustrated with this whole Mathis thing,” she said.
Sustaita said her frustration stems from the reaction of local voters, who continue to support Mathis despite the repeated claims against him.
“The people just don’t care,” she said.
Ultimately, Sustaita wants the suit to continue, not for a monetary payoff to compensate her for her suffering, but rather to highlight the failure of the system to protect its employees.
“You can’t go through the channels,” Sustaita said. “The people who write the law are above the law.”