Hearings have been scheduled for November and December in a wrongful dismissal and harassment case against Assemblyman Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) that at one point seemed to be dead in the water.
Originally filed in 2018 by a female member of Mathis’ legislative staff who claimed Mathis created and sustained a hostile workplace before firing her inappropriately, the lawsuit against the State Assembly and Mathis was eventually dismissed in July 2020 when attorney Chad Morgan of Los Angeles–who represented Janie Sustaita De Raadt, as well as Mathis’ former chief of staff Sean Doherty, in a pair of lawsuits against their former boss–failed to advance the case.
Morgan has now refiled De Raadt’s claim against the legislature and her former employer, though he didn’t bother to inform his client.
“This is just all news to me,” De Raadt said. “My attorney has not contacted me at all.”
Disappearing, Reappearing Lawyer
De Raadt only became aware her original action against Mathis had been ended by Morgan’s inaction when contacted by the media for comment about the dismissal. At the time–just prior to Mathis’ re-election in November 2020–De Raadt said she intended to file the case again, though she had had no contact from Morgan regarding the case or why he apparently failed to act on her behalf. She also decided to take Morgan to task professionally for apparently ruining her case.
“I filed a complaint with the Bar Association in November against my attorney for not doing his job,” De Raadt said.
Morgan then failed to respond to the State Bar in a timely manner, De Raadt said, though he now appears to have retained his own attorney in the matter who is responding on Morgan’s behalf. De Raadt still has not heard from Morgan, but two weeks ago she learned her errant lawyer had refiled the case against Mathis and the Assembly in March and she said the filing likely came as a response to her complaint with the State Bar.
Morgan did not respond to a request for comment.
Mathis’ History of Inappropriate Sexual Comments
De Raadt’s lawsuit was filed alongside a similar suit from Mathis’ former chief of staff Sean Doherty. Doherty was also represented by Morgan, and his case was likewise dropped for lack of action on Morgan’s part. It has not been refiled.
Doherty could not be reached for comment.
Mathis’ legal woes appear to have begun following the firing of Doherty in May of 2017. The firing was followed in October with highly public accusations of sexual assault against Mathis. The ensuing Assembly investigation found Mathis had not physically assaulted anyone, but he was reprimanded for his use of sexual language to characterize a fellow legislator, as well as a woman who worked for him. The Assembly’s report described Mathis’ comments as “locker room talk,” implying such sentiments are commonplace.
The allegations of unprofessional conduct by Mathis were substantiated in a resignation letter from a male member of Mathis’ staff–Joel Rosales–who witnessed similar behavior on Mathis’ part and reported it to the Assembly Rules Committee in 2015.
De Raadt Feared Violence
The prior allegations against Mathis for which he was sanctioned are of a similar nature to those made against him later by De Raadt. De Raadt’s accusations of sexual descrimination also center in large part on a second former Mathis chief of staff, Justin Turner, who was eventually fired from his position and reprimanded by the speaker of the State Assembly after he allegedly sent repeated comments of a sexual nature to an unnamed person.
Mathis defended Turner, saying the rebuke was a political attack.
De Raadt described Turner’s behavior as vulgar in the extreme. Mathis witnessed the behavior and did nothing to stop it, De Raadt said.
“Turner called me the C word, everything you can think of,” she said. “Mathis was right there. He just laughed. You don’t behave that way, especially when you represent a district.”
De Raadt also feared Mathis would turn violent. The assemblyman has been repeatedly accused of violence against his children in his previous divorce proceedings.
“The day that everything came to a head, I thought he (Mathis) was going to hit me,” De Raadt said. “He curled his fist. I said, ‘Do it. I’m not your wife. I’ll file charges.’ I went to the doctor. My chest was tight.”
Despite his dismissal from Mathis’ staff, rumors abound Turner is still employed by Mathis in some capacity. Mathis did not return repeated requests for information.
De Raadt, a long-time Republican, intends to continue her attempts to make Mathis responsible for his alleged misbehavior. While she is asking for monetary compensation for her suffering, that is not the driver behind the suit.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about making it right in the workplace for women,” she said. “They called me on Christmas to babysit. I was not going to babysit on Christmas eve so his wife could go horseback riding.”
Mathis filed for divorce from his second wife, Aubry Mathis, in March. The couple has 6-year-olds twins. Mathis has already posted a dating profile on the website Bumble, where he is seeking someone to help him with his “legacy.”
De Raadt also said Mathis paid her less than male staffers.
“He says he’s a champion for women’s rights. He didn’t pay me my fair wages,” she said. “He made it a very hostile work environment. He encouraged bullying by Turner. When I went to complain, he told me I needed to go have a couple drinks with him (Turner) and get to know him better.”
Getting Her Day in Court
Despite the sudden return to life of her case against Mathis, De Raadt is not sure it can be pursued successfully in its current form. Besides, Morgan remains unresponsive to his client.
“He never even emailed me or gave me any copies (of the new filing),” De Raadt said.
She’s also having difficulty finding new legal counsel.
“I called 17 different attorneys, and they didn’t want to walk into a case that someone else has started,” De Raadt said.
The trouble is other attorneys believe Morgan might have a claim to a part of any settlement or judgment in the case as the original attorney of record, she added.
Still, De Raadt is going forward with her claims against her former employer and the State Assembly.
“If I can find an attorney that will take this case on, yeah,” she said.